People with disabilities face challenges to full participation in American society. Poor people with disabilities face the added challenges that poverty entails. These challenges are intensified when advocates, bureaucrats, and decision makers are insensitive to—or fearful or ignorant of—the situations and needs of poor people with disabilities.
Students in the Disability Law Clinic work with individual clients and disability rights groups to address discrimination and to gain access to benefits and services for poor people with disabilities.
The Disability Law Clinic provides a structured educational and work experience to second- and third-year students interested in working with people with disabilities. Because students are assigned in pairs as the primary case handlers for their clients, they engage in all stages of case development, from intake to appeals. Thus, they develop skills in client interaction, research, writing, advocacy, administrative practice, cultural competence, and collaboration. Opportunities to reflect on their lawyering in class and in supervision meetings encourage students to develop their identities as lawyers, including their approaches to problem-solving, decision-making, social justice, and professionalism.
Clinic fieldwork includes individual client representation and participation in community projects that advocate disability rights. Most individual cases involve claims for federal and state disability benefits at administrative hearings and appeals.
The clinic is a three-credit hour, one-semester course. Students attend two 90-minute classes a week for the first half of the course to learn basic law regarding Social Security and Medicaid disability benefits and lawyering skills. Many classes are structured around simulations. In the second half, students meet every other week for case rounds, and then for three student-led classes that allow deeper reflection and collaborative learning on issues chosen by students.
Because the individual client work is litigation-based, the intensity of clinic hours varies. On average, students devote 10-12 hours to their clinic work. This includes four hours of scheduled office time per week and a weekly supervision meeting during office hours.
Cases and projects have lives of their own, of course, and these often extend beyond the end of the academic semester. Students are not required to continue working beyond the end of the semester, but some do, to bring their clients and projects to a good transition point.
Students receive ongoing feedback on their development as lawyers through the weekly supervision meetings. In addition, two formal evaluations occur at mid-semester and the end of the term. The mid-semester evaluation is a self-evaluation designed to allow time for correction and improvement in the student’s learning. The final evaluation is conducted by the faculty supervisor and focuses on these areas of lawyering: decision-making and judgment, client interaction, advocacy, research, analysis and writing, and professional responsibility. Final grades take into account both professional standards of practice and progress made by students during the semester.
Carwina Weng, Associate Clinical Professor of Law, directs the Disability Law Clinic. Professor Weng has worked in legal services and clinical legal education in New York, Massachusetts, and Indiana. She has worked with survivors of domestic violence, people living with HIV/AIDS, tenants and tenant associations, and elderly and disabled clients. Her research focuses on multi-cultural lawyering.
Here’s what you need to know about participating in the Disability Law Clinic (B 553):
Clinic Director: Carwina Weng
E-mail: wengc [at] indiana [dot] edu
Phone: (812) 855-9229 or (812) 855-9809
Fax: (812) 855-5128
Room: Lewis Building 301