Editor: Have you ever dealt with your state’s Department of Rehabilitation? If so, did you find them friendly and helpful? Did they seem to have your best interests at heart?
Here’s an article about a rehabilitation program that approved law school as an employment goal. As always, your feedback on information in these newsletters is encouraged.
This article first appeared in Protection & Advocacy, Inc., Newsletter #89, Fall 2004, and is reprinted with permission.
Eric Heckman is deaf, and he wants to be a lawyer. In February 2003, the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) approved Heckman for vocational rehabilitation services. But DOR refused to support Heckman’s employment goal because he:
• Has a bachelor’s degree he can use to find employment;
• Did not score high enough on a DOR career assessment/evaluation; and
• Had to agree to take the LSAT exam before DOR would write his Individual Plan for Employment (IPE).
DOR wanted lower employment goal
The law school Heckman wanted to attend at that time did not require an LSAT exam. DOR insisted that Heckman change his employment goal to paralegal or a similar field – to get his foot in the door. Heckman refused, so DOR closed his case.
PAI letter reopens case
Heckman called PAI. Dolores Victor, a staff attorney in PAI’s Oakland office, investigated. She agreed to help Heckman with both issues – the case closure and the refusal to support his employment goal. After Victor asked for an informal review of the case closure, DOR reopened it.
DOR changes position
But DOR still would not support Heckman’s goal of becoming a lawyer, so Victor represented him at an administrative review hearing. At that hearing, Victor persuaded DOR to change its position.
Then she helped Heckman develop and write his IPE. DOR approved Heckman’s plan, which includes (1) LSAT preparation and exam fees; (2) Law school admittance and tuition fees; (3) Books and supplies; (4) Transportation; (5) A tutor (if necessary); (6) Assistive technology, including an evaluation for laptop computer equipment; (7) taking the Bar exam twice (if necessary); and (8) the Bar prep course.
PASS approved, too
Victor also helped Heckman get his Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS) approved after Social Security had delayed it for more than a year.
Stand up for your rights
In Heckman’s words, “Attorney Dolores and PAI did a fantastic job helping me.” He believes that it is important to hope to reach your dream, to stand up for your rights, to open more opportunities for people with disability.
“The law is on our side,” he says. “The U.S. Constitution gives us the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. We must continue the legacy of Justin Dart, and insist that people with disability not be left out.”