The Disability Dilemma: A Skeptical Bench & Bar

21 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2009

See all articles by Wendy Fritzen Hensel

Wendy Fritzen Hensel

Georgia State University College of Law

Date Written: 2008


The legal profession is no stranger to the bias and prejudice present in American society. Members of the bar have been shown to engage in both conscious and subconscious discrimination, posing challenges to the profession as the profile of those practicing law has changed over the last several decades. Although women and minorities have made significant inroads into the profession, attorneys with disabilities remain the "forgotten diversity group." Many members of the bar continue to believe that these attorneys are primarily limited by their medical problems rather than any bias in the profession. They do not embrace disability as a fluid which is also shaped by societal attitudes treating impairment as synonymous with failure and incompetence. There is skepticism at every level that an attorney can be both sufficiently disabled to qualify for legal protection and still qualified to engage in the exacting practice of law.

The legal profession's failure to understand the social component of disability is not unique, but does have unique implications. Attorneys draft the laws protecting individuals with impairments, prosecute and defend claims of disability discrimination by society, and define the scope of protection through judicial decisions. This article identifies and explores the unique aspects of legal education and the practice of law that may actually encourage attorneys to adopt a medical model of disability and apply a general skepticism toward all claims of impairment and accommodation. It concludes that even modest changes in the classroom and legal offices have the potential to significantly improve the inclusiveness of the legal profession and treatment of all people with disabilities.

Keywords: legal profession, disability law, discrimination, disability discrimination, legal education, practice of law, law practice

JEL Classification: K00, K30, K39

Suggested Citation

Hensel, Wendy Fritzen, The Disability Dilemma: A Skeptical Bench & Bar (2008). University of Pittsburgh Law Review, Vol. 69, p. 637, Georgia State University College of Law, Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009-03, Available at SSRN:

Wendy Fritzen Hensel (Contact Author)

Georgia State University College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 4037
Atlanta, GA 30302-4037
United States
404-982-6803 (Phone)

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