The Time is Now: A Conversation on Disabilities and Change, 0122 COBJ, Vol. 51, No. 1 Pg. 12

PositionVol. 51, 1 [Page 12]

The Time is Now: A Conversation on Disabilities and Change

No. Vol. 51, No. 1 [Page 12]

Colorado Lawyer

January, 2022

The SideBar


DEI policies should incorporate people with disabilities, including people with physical disabilities and those who are neurologically diverse." This doesn't seem controversial on its face. Most people working in the legal community want to be inclusive, and most believe this statement is true.

But the reality falls short of the policy. People with disabilities are underrepresented—or not represented at all—in our law schools, law firms, and other workplaces. Even organizations focused on promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion frequently lack representatives from the related community. Which raises the question, "Why?"

Part of the answer is that we may not regularly encounter people with disabilities or those who are neurologically diverse in our professional lives (at least that we're aware of). Many don't even know a single person with a disability, or if they do, they have never had a conversation with their friend about their experience as a person with disabilities. But bringing the policy and die reality together requires that we talk about the issues and challenges facing people with disabilities as they navigate die legal arena. And that is what this article begins: the conversation.


John Ridge: To start with, why don't you tell die readers a little bit about yourself?

John Broadbent: I recently started as an associate in the Denver office of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP. I work in the firm's Corporate and Business and Government Relations practices. Before that, I studied at die University of Colorado Law School, where I graduated with Dean's List honors. During law school, I contributed a published paper on international disability law, was fortunate enough to serve in die chambers of two Colorado Supreme Court justices, and provided (attorney-supervised) legal assistance to local startup clients through the school's Entrepreneurial Law Clinic.

John R: How about before law school?

John B: I graduated with distinction from Duke University with a major in classical civilizations. I then spent several years working in die technology M&A sector, creating financial models and presentations that drove business strategy.

John R: Would you be willing to tell us about your disability?

John B: Absolutely. I was born in the New York City area in 1991, two months premature due to rare, severe intestinal blockages. Without innovative surgery, my life would have been cut short days after birth. Through a skin biopsy, doctors soon diagnosed me with a rare genetic condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, which weakens my bones and makes it more difficult to build muscle. Only 25,000 people have this condition in the United States. Despite initially testing with relatively high Apgar scores, my condition was subsequently characterized with terms like "failure to thrive" and "dying brain." The doctors had serious doubts about whether I would ever walk, talk, or lead any kind of productive or meaningful life.

Fortunately, the concerns about my cognition were alleviated by elementary school, when teachers caught my classmates cheating off me in spelling quizzes.

John R: That's funny.

John B: It is funny, looking back. But I still had to contend with this rare bone disorder, an underdeveloped musculature, a severe speech impairment, a hearing impairment, and a rare neurologic condition called spasmodic dysphonia. I also had to get daily growth hormone injections to ensure that I would grow to a socially acceptable height for an American male.

Through many years of physical, occupational, and speech therapy, I slowly built strength and developed strategies to mitigate the impact of my physical disabilities. But it truly took a village of wonderful people to get me to where I am today. And my mother was the orchestrator of it all.

John R: I would love to meet your mom someday.

John B: You would like her. She is my greatest advocate.

It's your turn now. Why don't you tell the readers about yourself?

John R: Like you, I'm a lawyer. I mostly practice state and local tax law, which I enjoy immensely. I have been at this business for more years than I care to admit at this point. I still remember the days when lawyers used dictaphones and BlackBerries (the precursor to the iPhone). I occasionally miss my dictaphone.

John B: I was going to ask, "What's a Black-Berry?"

John R: Okay, now I feel a bit aged out!

John B: Why don't you tell the readers why you are interested in our topic?

John R: When I was a kid (many decades ago), I had a friend on the autism spectrum. Back then, people with cognitive differences were treated terribly, and he was no different. I never understood why people went out of their way to be so cruel, so I used to stand up for him the best I could. I didn't know it then, but I was fighting for justice and equality. That struggle remains important to me today.

Later on, when I became a father, I found out that my daughter has 22qll.2 deletion syndrome, which is a genetic difference that causes both cognitive and physical disabilities. But her biggest challenges have come from the way others treat her. Educators have ignored her, employers won't give her a chance, and medical providers are just uninformed. I feel like I have been fighting from day one to get her equal access to a quality education and employment, and to inform her medical community about 22q.

And lastly, like you, I deal with the neurochemical condition called spasmodic dysphonia But I came of age in the legal world at a time when we had to hide our disability challenges. The advice I was given as a young associate was to "hide it and never speak about it." So I did.

Do you want to hear something funny?

John B: Sure, what?

John R: This is the first time I ever said it aloud, in public. It's challenging, my friend, after hiding it from my colleagues for so long. I admire you, John B, because you are so willing speak about your disabilities to help others.

John B: Are you worried about discussing it here?

John R: After hiding it for 20-plus years, I guess I do have some concerns. But we'll see. I'm frequently surprised by die generosity and decency of lawyers in die Colorado bar. It's a good bar.

The Importance of the Conversation

John B: Tell me more about why this particular conversation is important to you.

John R: I'm interested in having this conversation so others can be informed. But it's more than that. By telling our personal stories, even in a medium such as this, readers can meet people with disabilities and begin to comprehend die discrimination that occurs in our society and die legal community. Let's face it, it's easy to ignore die issues when they're just academic concepts like discrimination and prejudice. But it's hard to ignore diem when they're presented by a person we've met or by one of our friends, because then it's real. In telling our personal stories, my hope is that die struggle will become more apparent to others. In raising die issues and talking about diem in a personal manner, readers will become personally involved. I hope.

But why don't you tell me why this conversation is important to you?

John B: It's important because we're seeing a far lower than acceptable number of people with disabilities holding professional positions, especially in law. I feel strongly that the...

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