AAW 017 Radel
September 16, 2022
Transcription is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings.
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Welcome to AccessAbility Works.
A podcast about the possibilities that accessibility means for people with disabilities. I’m Albert Rizzi.
And I’m Jonathan Hermus.
And this is AccessAbility Works.
Today our guest is Pat Radel.
He is a disability attorney with a special focus on special education, and supporting parents with children who happen to have a disability. And how they navigate successfully the academic pursuits from kindergarten to high school.
That’s right, and Pat has a son.
His name is Mark.
Who happens to have Down syndrome, and got into disability law because of his son.
Yeah, so his very first client was Mark. At least that was where the organic focus of his interests and pursuits as a disability rights attorney with a special focus on education was born, no pun intended. Looking forward to having you enjoy this podcast as much as we enjoyed it. Speaking with Pat was eye-opening, and at the same time, it was like a kindred spirit. So looking forward to having you enjoy that.
But more about current events, we have a rocket getting ready to be shot into space, Artemis.
It’s going to do a trip around the moon come back.
Yeah, so this is really exciting stuff.
This is the unmanned mission before the manned mission. They’re going to send four people back to the moon.
Yeah, and it’s going to be four people in around 2024. And then a second trip, if you will, in 2026. So it’s all happening really soon, and it’s going to be exciting. We’ve been anxiously awaiting the take off, or lift off of the ship.
And John, there are some other news related to Neuralink, and the various exciting things that are happening in the brain.
From the whispers I’ve heard from the internet, there is a company, I believe based in Brooklyn, who has been doing similar work to Neuralink. And I believe Elon’s–
Instead of competing with the competitor, he is endorsing and funding them. So I believe they’ve successfully implanted a Neuralink-type product into someone’s brain.
It’s kind of exciting, and I love the fact that they’re sharing information, much like we realized was going to help us advance awareness around cancer treatments when scientists stopped running to the finish line to win, and decided to share information to help people live and thrive without cancer. And we were just watching a program the other day, where I believe this gentleman had ALS. He went into the carotid artery and implanted something into his brain where he is able to send thoughts. Very, very sci-fi. Very, very Star Trek-ish. Send thoughts to a screen, and he was able to manipulate a cursor, and type.
Yeah, it’s the whole idea behind–
–Neuralink. This product’s called Sychron.
I like that name.
Sounds very sci-fi. The implanted device was implanted on July 6th in New York. The chip is designed to allow patients with severe paralysis to communicate using their thoughts, or through a cursor on a screen to activate a computer via their brain. We’re getting into some cool sci-fi shit.
No it really, really is exciting. Be sure to look out for my next blog, which is tied right into this whole conversation we’re having with Pat. Students of ability in school, go to myblindspot.org, and look for our blog. And download the podcast where you get your podcasts, Spotify, Apple, or on our website at myblindspot.org.
Just in time for back to school.
(SINGING) The most wonderful time of the year. Anyway, yeah, good luck to all you students who are starting back the school year, college, elementary school, high school, middle school.
Students in between.
Go forth and prosper.
And don’t forget to check out our social media, on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and also our website at myblindspot.org where you can find everything about us. All of the information.
And then some.
Without any further ado, here is Pat Radel.
Hello, Pat. Welcome to AccessAbility Works.
My pleasure, glad to be here. Thanks to you both.
Well, we start out with a specific question that John Hermes always asks people we are meeting with. So Johnny what you got?
We would just like you to explain to all of our listeners who is Patrick Radel?
Sure, OK. I’ll start– that’s a great question. I’ll start at the beginning. I was born in Buffalo, New York. So, go Bills.
Yep, and went to undergrad. I knew I wanted to be a firefighter and until I was about three. And I think around three or four years old, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. And so as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a lawyer when I grew up. I went to the University of Buffalo for undergrad and for law school.
I met my wife, she’s also an attorney. I met my wife at the University of Buffalo Law School. After law school, I spent two years working for a federal district court judge in Buffalo. And then moved to Utica, which is in–
Utica Club Brewery, love that stuff.
Well, it’s funny you say that, because when we first moved to Utica, it was kind of a novelty to have a brewery. I mean they had a brewery. You could take a tour. They had this thing where you could craft beer. And people would visit and you’d take them on a brewery tour, and it was a novelty. Now, of course, every place you go–
Everybody’s got a brewery.
Has got a brewery–
You’re going to have to get me some Jenny screamers.
That sounds like a plan.
So, yeah. So I spent two years working for a federal district court judge in Buffalo. And then we moved here to Utica, that’s where my wife is from. And I joined the firm that I am still– now I’ve become a partner, Getnick Livingston Atkinson & Priore, wanting to be a trial attorney. For various reasons, I ended up initially with a specialty in bankruptcy law, representing banks and credit unions in bankruptcy court, and I still do that work. But I became a special education attorney at 9:03 AM on February 1st 2006, because that is when my middle son Mark was born.
Mark as a person with Down syndrome. And so I knew at that point I had one special ed client. So I needed to know what the special education law was so I could advocate for Mark. But really, even at that point, I had no plans of making special ed law part of my practice. But I became more involved with our local–
A little bundle fell into your lap.
Yeah, a little bundle fell into my lap. But even then, it wasn’t like I was going to make that– have anyone other than that one client. I became involved in our local Down syndrome community, and disability community. And about three or four years into it, one of our friends from the Down syndrome group called me and said, hey, we’re having some issues at school. Can you help us out? And I said, well, I did what lawyers usually do when you ask them for help in an area that they don’t practice. And I said, well, let me find you an attorney who does this kind of work.
What is that, the first thing they teach you in law school?
Yeah, refer it out. Yeah. Well, actually it’s funny, they should teach you that, because lawyers, that’s when you get yourself in trouble, usually is taking things outside of your area of specialty. Yeah. And especially nowadays, you really it’s very difficult to practice without having some kind of specialty. So I looked around, and really did not find anybody in our community who was representing parents.
So I said, here’s the deal. I’m learning as I go, but I’m all in on this. So if you want me to do it, I’d be honored to help you. So one thing led to another, and now depending on the time of year, it’s anywhere between 60% to 80% of my law practice is representing families of students with disabilities in matters involving their school.
That’s so critically important, because too many times– sorry, John.
Yeah, and too many times parents– and I think this is just our society in general, which is where I think we’re having some of the issues we have today, would blindly, pun unintended, trust the authorities, whoever they were. And when the authorities don’t seem to be living up to the responsibilities we’ve handed them, you get to a point where, as a parent, you’re questioning, why isn’t my child learning? And why aren’t you doing more?
And having, especially when it comes to children with special needs, or learning challenges, it clearly is critically important for parents to know they have rights. And they are, in most instances, needed for approvals to move forward with the academic enrichment that their kids deserve.
No question about it. And I’ll say, I think if you talk to most attorneys, and said, hey, what about special ed law? They would from the outside say, oh, my gosh, the parents. I can’t imagine having to deal with the parents.
It’s not the parents.
Well, you know what? Absolutely. And I say, and not that everyone doesn’t have their challenging clients, but I always start out from the perspective of what this person has enough courage to say you know what? No, and not only no, but I’m going to pick up the phone and call a lawyer. And that takes some courage. Really, really does.
And I always start out from a position of real admiration and appreciation for the courage that it takes for a parent to say no, to ask the hard questions, and be willing to engage an attorney, if they believe their student isn’t getting what he or she needs.
They also need to accept the hard answers, I think. I find that in the blind community, whenever we talk to people about awareness and advancement of authentic inclusion, and/or digital equity for people who happen to be blind or print disabled, I talk about the education that is needed on both sides of the coin.
And parents for the most part, I think don’t have the confidence that they know what’s right, because they don’t have all the letters at the end of their name, the alphabet soup, or some license that says they’re smart enough to know what they’re talking about. But knowing the child intimately, and how the child learns, and how you influence the child’s learning style over the years, is a critical component of any child’s ability to successfully navigate our treacherous educational system.
I couldn’t agree more. And actually, that’s one of the things that I give a talk on what I call myths of special education, areas where I think what the law and the research says, is at odds with what might be a common understanding. And parental expertise is one of those things where the law is actually very much in recognition of, hey, the parent has a unique global perspective on the development of this human being.
And they have something that is extremely– a perspective that is extremely valuable to the process of determining what the appropriate program in placement is for that student. And their voice must be heard, as a matter of law, must be heard. And that we should encourage parents to speak up and to make their views known. No doubt about it.
And John, also, well, you had an IEP growing up, correct?
An IEP? Yeah. And an IEP teacher and resource rooms and stuff like that. There are also, I could still technically qualify for it at college.
It’s a heavy lift sometimes, and as an educator myself, Pat, and an administrator, I find that all too often, some of my peers in early childhood education tend to push the challenging children, the ones that are on the cusp, I suppose, as opposed to individuals that present, and are actually entitled to an IEP and the supports that go with it, but the behavioral kids wind up being told Oh they’ll never learn anything. Just either pass them through or hold them back.
It’s important in my opinion, that we look at academic enrichment for people of all abilities. And that’s one of the things we do at My Blind Spot, is we try to work with academic institutions to advance digital equity for people with print disabilities. Now you mentioned your lovely wife of 20 years. Does she have a name, or do you just call her wife?
Yes. Her name is Mary.
Mary. And you said you have three children. I heard about Mark, but you have an older son, I believe, named Luke?
I do, yep. And what’s the third’s name. I missed that one in one of the things we were–
John Paul. Luke, Mark, and John Paul.
Not too Catholic, are we?
No, not at all. No, no.
Is he John Paul III?
He could, who knows. Maybe someday. Maybe someday. So let’s go back a bit. What was the first thing you and your wife felt when you saw this bundle of joy that came with strings?
Yeah, so Mark was a– his diagnosis was a surprise. And it was not definitive in the first instance. He had some of the markers of an infant with Down syndrome, but not all of them. So we ended up having about a week’s worth of waiting until the genetic testing came back, during which time– and while he was in the hospital, I was examining him, and looking at him, and thinking about it, and worrying about it.
And I to this day remain very grateful to his big brother, Luke, who was at the time, not quite two years old, because when we brought Mark home, Luke ran up to him and pointed to him and said, baby. And at that moment, it became clear to me that whatever else was going on, this was a baby, and not just any baby, but our baby. And so I should get over myself and accept whatever the diagnosis was going to be. And just start loving him and thinking of him as a baby.
There was thinking, is the word you use, as I was listening to the other descriptors. Did you feel overwhelmed? Did you feel disappointed? What did you go through? What did you and your wife go through initially without the lived experience? And I’m going to say education, about the gift that he turned out to be?
Yes. I’m always grateful. There is a– Emily Kingsley was a writer or a producer on “Sesame Street” and she had a son with Down syndrome. And she wrote a wonderful reflection called, “Welcome To Holland.” And actually Mary and a couple of other moms and grandmas founded a Down syndrome support group. And they deliver welcome kits to nurseries. So that if you’re a new family in Syracuse or Utica, and you have an– either receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, or you give birth to a child with Down syndrome, hopefully, you’re going to get a welcome pack from the 21 Club which will include a copy of “Welcome To Holland.”
And so welcome to Holland talks about you buy your plane tickets to Italy. And hop on the plane, and you’re all excited. You’ve been waiting to go to Italy your whole life. You get on the plane and you fall asleep. The next thing you know, you’ve landed. And the stewardess says, I’m very sorry to tell you but your trip to Italy has been canceled. We’ve decided to land in Holland instead.
And at that point you have a choice. You can either grieve the loss of Italy, and be annoyed and angry that you didn’t go to Italy. Or you can decide to explore Holland. And discover all of the unique– it’s not the same as Italy, but it’s got its own charms.
That was very much the journey that we experienced. A moment of, this was not what we expected, this was not what we planned for. But you know what? Let’s just kind of go with it as we go. And then I often tell you when I talk to families about this, I say if you think about it, at the end of the day, what we want for all three of our boys is fundamentally the same.
We want them to live lives of human flourishing, and meaning, and purpose, and happiness. Now that might look different, or need different supports for each one of them, but at the end of the day, we want the same thing for all three boys. And now it’s to the point where I literally could not imagine a life without Mark, and all of the people that we’ve met, and things that have happened to us, and experiences we’ve had precisely because of his diagnosis, because of his challenges.
Well, I have a friend of mine. She was actually the kindergarten teacher for my niece, and her first grade teacher as well. We became friends after I had lost my eyesight, and had gone to my niece’s class to speak about my abilities. And found that she has a son named James. She has two daughters. Like you, she had three children, two bookends, and James.
She had support groups and everything like that. And two things that I remember her telling me, is that while she was pregnant, at a time where it was shocking to hear that doctors actually suggested terminating the pregnancy, which is a choice, but that is something suggested was disconcerting. And she just looked like I’m sure you and your wife did, no.
And then there was this– you had mentioned too, about the support groups. And this was more of a Down syndrome club, where you went with families who had other Down syndrome children. And one of the things I remember she said the girls said her two daughters said, mom, everybody here looks like James.
And I think you’ll agree she was all about making sure that the academics, and the enrichment she offered to other people’s children was heterogeneous, in the sense that everybody got the same education. Everybody was going to be treated the same. And sometimes the homogeneous settings where everybody is the same, like intellect or ability, kind of puts them at a disadvantage for not realizing that there are other people in the world that are not like them. I don’t know where do you where do you fall on stuff like that?
Yeah this is going to be a very lawyerly, both and, it depends, sort-of answer. Well, you can wear those hats if you want, but this is not about your legal advice.
I’m holding you to it.
Oh, no, that’s fine. We have tried, I think, to keep as best we could a mix. We felt very strongly from the beginning, we wanted Mark to be included in the life of his community, and the life of his school, and have access to typical peers. The research is pretty conclusive that there’s a very strong correlation between the achievement of students with disabilities, and the amount of time they spend in general education.
Having said that, there is something a good colleague of mine once said, came up with a beautiful definition, that friendship equals time plus shared experience. And there is something about, hey, look, having Down syndrome is a characteristic that influences every aspect of your life. And there’s a value add from being with other people who share that experience.
So Mary and I have that in our own lives. We certainly have friends who don’t have any connection with Down syndrome. And we enjoy our time and our friendship with them. And then there is a special bond when we spend time go to dinner with friends who are on the same journey that we are, supporting a person with Down syndrome. So I think it’s really, you try to have a good balance of each. And I think either one on the extreme probably wouldn’t be good for Mark. Either to be–
Moderation, even with moderation.
I ask only because I remember, it wasn’t such a long time ago. I think it was– and I think in some places, I’m not going to limit them to third world nations, but people with disabilities were institutionalized up until the time, I think blind people into the late ’70s. I think there’s a lot about the concept of a village. It takes a village, all the stuff that goes along with the connection there, but I think– I don’t know.
I have found since losing my eyesight, and joining Mark’s community, and Mark and I being in the same community that people with disabilities are often overlooked. And I have my own theories about when that starts. But as a young child, we don’t see color, we don’t see ability unless we’re trained or educated to see it that way.
I remember what was it? South Pacific, children are carefully taught. And I think, for some reason, I heard that mentioned someplace else this week, which is why it came so quickly to me. But if left to their own devices, children really do see people at their value, at their core. They look for the similarities rather than the differences, and the differences are celebrated. And I believe that children of today, the youth, our teenagers are 20 somethings, and I would say even our early 30 somethings, they’re more about inclusiveness.
I am thinking there’s a world where Mark and James can walk confidently in society. And not just be looked at as different, but they can look out and see themselves in others, whether it’s another person with Down syndrome, or somebody else with interests and a family. Whatever the sameness is.
No, absolutely. And I think a lot about how much we stand on the shoulders of parents and activists and advocates and self-advocates who went before us, who talked about it. I mean, I think had Mark been born in the ’60s or ’70s even, there’s a good chance that the recommendation would have been made in the hospital that he be taken immediately to an institution. And that was, of course–
Or even worse, even terminated.
Sure, and that was unthinkable. And so now it is becoming, it’s still not as common as it should be. Well, and then, so then they went from terminated or institutionalized, to OK they go home with you, but all of their education happens somewhere else. And I don’t know about you, but I certainly did not have any students with disabilities in any of my schools, ever.
Not growing up. No, I don’t–
I knew of a few.
You were in the classroom with them. No, Pat. How old are you?
So I’m about 10 years older than you. A little more than 10 years old, shit, I’m almost 15. This is getting crazy, I’m getting old. Stop. I don’t know when we are trained to ignore people that we see, whether it’s because of race, gender, orientation, or in this instance, a dislabeling of our ability, disability.
This very much dovetails with your work too, that I find depending on the circumstances, either encouraging or inspiring. But the notion that we are lacking as a community, whether that’s a school community, or a business community, or a municipality, we’re lacking if everyone isn’t belonging, if everyone isn’t included, everyone isn’t welcomed.
And it just goes if you go back to, I am not a very religious person. I tend to be more spiritual in nature. Shut up, Jonathan. So if we listen to the various prophets, and Jesus Christ himself, about the ideas of all are welcome. I don’t know why, I think Jesus went to say, if you don’t set a place at your table for the unexpected guest, they’re going to feel put out. They’re going to feel less than, they’re not going to feel– they’re going to feel like they’re intruding, or they aren’t value.
If we can take that on a parable, whatever it is, his thoughts, his feelings, his teachings, of all are welcome, then we as a society and as corporations with social responsibility, we really do need to set a spot at the table for people of ability so they don’t come in. And then we have to retrofit a training program or an academic curriculum, or computers, or anything.
We should start looking at leveling the playing field by understanding the diverse mosaic includes people with disabilities. And that new frickin’ term for HR diversity–
Equity, and inclusion.
Equity, inclusion. Yeah. If we don’t DEI, or whatever, they don’t have at their focus any councils, any committees, that are, for the most part, run and/or focusing on people with disabilities. They have race, they have gender, they have orientation, they have religion, they — I don’t know, whether you like your pronouns one way or another now. But they really don’t have a disability contingent representing ability in a very focused manner. That’s got to change.
No question. And I’m glad you gave me an entree. I give a talk to Catholic schools, trying to encourage Catholic schools, to become more inclusive.
John went to Catholic school.
OK, all right.
He probably would have been wishing for the resource room that day.
One of the arguments I make, or stories I tell, is about the parable of the good Samaritan. So not a lot of people know, but the preface to the parable is, a scholar of the law asks Jesus, what do I have to do to obtain eternal life? Jesus says, well, what does it say in the law? And the scholar says, love the Lord your God with your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.
And Jesus says, OK, do that. What rings so true, and I love, is the scholar of the law says, OK, but who is my neighbor? Which I think is a very lawyerly thing to do. Define your terms, teacher. Who is neighbor? Define for me neighbor. And of course, the upshot of the parable is, in no way would an ordinary person consider the Samaritan neighbor to the wounded traveler on the road.
They were not neighbors in any ordinary sense of the meaning. But of course, the point of the parable is Jesus is saying define neighbor as broadly and inclusively as you would possibly imagine. Everyone is your neighbor. And so I say to the Catholic schools, or if people want to take it out of their lives kind of, I say to regular schools, if you are asking, who is my student? My answer to you is to create the broadest most inclusive definition possible of who is my student. And do not consider your work done until every student is included, and has access to the education and community that you are offering to the people who live in your area. But that’s my–
Well said, Grasshopper.
No, and the funny thing is, John, how many times do you hear me use the reference of the good Samaritan in the talks that I give?
All the time.
Pat, I love you right now. Because even if we take a look, again, religion aside, because if you take a look at the Ten Commandments, I think at least three religions possibly 10, I can’t keep track anymore, we’re built on those foundations. Honor they God, and honor thy neighbor. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and you will always please me.
And here we have that wounded soul in the gutter, and all those wealthy people, all those clergy, rabbis, priests, whatever, ran by all those moderately-wealthy, middle-income people, ran by all– the whole story. And it took a Samaritan who everybody else thought was no more worthy of God’s love than a pile of dung, that stopped and helped. That’s exactly what I think of when I think about the Civil Rights movement in this country, and how that work that was started by Martin Luther King needs to be implemented, perfected, and lifted up for the disability community.
It has helped women get out of bondage. It has helped LGBT get out of bondage, and now I think it’s time for the disability community to come front and center to understand they need to shed the wheelchairs, the shackles, or anything that encumbrance and/or that society defines us with, that binds us to marginalization and disenfranchisement, and be loud and proud, just like they were in the ’80s and ’90s trying to get attention from the gay community, and show that we’re more than just somebody to feel sympathetic toward. Or as the Bible has said, in the Torah and the Quran for thousands and thousands of years, unworthy of Gods love.
I couldn’t agree more. I think also, as part of that, I think we need to have conversations about facts and research. And that I think a lot of at least I can only speak really to the education piece, that’s what I do, but that much of the segregation that goes on of students with disabilities, is done ostensibly because oh, well, they need something separate and special that we can’t do for them here in general education.
And therefore, they need to go somewhere else to get an appropriate education. And that just flies in the face of 30 years of research, that just completely debunks the notion that there’s any correlation between the achievement of students with disabilities, and time spent in self-contained classes. And, again, that’s a generalization. I don’t mean to say that no some students and some teachers don’t get good outcomes sometimes in these self-contained setting.
Do not apologize. Our society and the human condition works best, unfortunately, in generalizations, because we don’t have the time, the money, or the bandwidth to look at it on a case-by-case basis. So in most instances, anything you say, I will probably most likely agree with from a generalization perspective, because then we know we take instances on a case-by-case basis to grow from that foundation that we can build from, to create an infrastructure that supports the individual. We have to have a starting point.
I have a question, actually.
Go ahead, sir.
Are there any federal laws in place for education of people with disabilities? Or is it just all state and local?
No, actually, there’s several very powerful federal laws that govern– I always like to say too, wherever any school district that takes federal money, and all the public schools take federal money, are governed, the main federal special education law is called IDEA.
That was Papa Bush, right?
So that’s the ADA. Actually, so the IDEA has been reauthorized periodically including under both President Bush’s, but no that’s one of the things that drives me–
When was the IDEA–
When was IDEA signed?
So IDEA is older than I am 1975, if you go–
Oh my God. That’s right around the same time they did the Rehab Act.
Yeah, it guarantees students with disabilities the right to a free, appropriate, public education, in the least restrictive environment. And the courts have interpreted that least restrictive environment standard as creating a very strong legal presumption in favor of inclusive education. And over the course of the last 50 years, the courts have interpreted the least restrictive environment standard to create a very strong legal presumption in favor of inclusive education.
Yeah. When John started going to school, that was ’95, kindergarten, they were still perfecting IDEA. And it was just, I remember hearing friends who had kids at the time. I mean, in the ’90s and the early 2000s. There are still struggles to understand how the children are entitled to the least restrictive environments. And again, even the travel times involved, I know some kids who have to travel across counties to go get their academic enrichment, because that’s supposedly the best place for them to learn.
That’s a function, in my view, of some persistent myths and misunderstanding about what the law says. I’ll give you a very common example. So the school folks will say to the parent, well, your student could not keep up with the general education curriculum. I mean, it’s common core, even in kindergarten. Apparently nowadays, they’re splitting the atom in kindergarten.
Back when we were in kindergarten, it was playtime and naps. But now, oh, it’s fancy–
Don’t forget the snack time. You have to eat–
It’s heavy duty now. Yeah, it’s heavy duty now in kindergarten, your child could not keep up. And you’re sitting there as a parent and that’s true. Yeah, I’m looking at my son with Down syndrome, Mark, he cannot keep up with– he was in 10th grade this past year, he can’t keep up with Regents Global studies. He can’t he can’t match the curriculum. So you’re telling me that, it seems true. I agree with you. And so then you’re saying, well, therefore, they need to yeah, and get on–
Terminate his education.
Or go somewhere else to get a parallel separate thing. Now the truth is, and if this is not the law of Pat Radel, this is black and white right in the Code of Federal Regulations. A student is not to be removed from education and general education solely because of needed modifications to the curriculum.
And the measure of progress for a student with a disability is not progress in general education, but progress toward his or her individual–
So Mark can be in Regents Global studies included along with typical peers, and learning a prioritized, modified, differentiated curriculum.
And as long as he’s making progress toward his IEP goals, that is a perfectly appropriate– not only is that an appropriate placement, that is legally appropriate placement.
And he can be in the same class. He might not be taking the Regents exam, and it’s just a matter of making sure that the same access to that same information is given to Mark to choose how to digest it at this point in time. And that’s one of the things when I got my master’s degrees, I got them with St John’s University.
And I remember I was in a New York City teaching fellowship program that was put together by Bloomberg, and I was the third cohort. And some of the professors were actually given professorship, but were actually teachers in the school system, because of this new program. And one of the things I remember one of my professors teaching me, actually not one, about four or five, don’t ever blame the student for not learning because you think they don’t have the ability if you are following a script.
Because how many times have you heard that teachers, and I’m sure you too, John, say, oh, well, all the other kids learn it, but why didn’t he or she? And I keep remembering, we don’t bend the students’ ability to our teaching styles. As educators are teaching styles need to bend and yield to the ability.
No question, and also that why are we measuring progress based on–
–the most privileged learners? I mean that’s one of the areas I get frustrated. There’s a huge gap in a few critical areas between what we know and what is actually happening in schools. And reading is a good example of that. A lot of reading instruction, maybe this is true for this, is absolute garbage. Now it happens to be that for reasons we’re not entirely clear of, a bunch of kids learn how to read anyway, kind of organically.
But it’s not because of the reading instruction they’re getting in school. And it really only shows up in those struggling readers, that when you’re not giving them evidence-based reading instruction that’s aligned with the science of reading, that’s where it shows up. And a lot of times I think students with disabilities and challenges are canaries in the coal mine, that they are expressing and calling out teachers who are not aligning their instruction with universal design, with science of reading–
Basically, they’re calling bullshit, plain and simple, sorry.
I’m a very big believer that school didn’t really teach me anything, I learned myself. Because I didn’t really pick up learning until after I got out of high school, and decided I needed to learn things.
And too, Jonathan being diagnosed with dyslexia, his older brother had it. But we didn’t, and his older brother, his parents, his mom, always was fighting with the schools because they wanted to write them off, and both of them off as basically unteachable. But the whole concept of, again, we were talking before in the ’60s about how people who were giving birth to down syndrome babies would talk to a counsel. Same thing when you had dyslexia.
I remember being young I had no– at least kindergarten, first grade, and second grade, I didn’t have teachers that challenged me. We have a niece named Autumn who’s, she’ll be four on October 2nd. This kid is using language of an adult in complete context, and I have already told her parents that they might be called into school because of it.
But if she gets the wrong teacher, if Mark gets the wrong teacher, who doesn’t see the ability of the student, that Mark might be bored with the way you’re teaching to me, because you don’t know I have this ability, that ability, there’s no enrichment going on. There’s no growth, and then the child gets told, you are the problem, as opposed to the teacher not hearing how they’re not engaging the student.
How do you incorporate Mark’s feelings, and Mark’s preferences, and Mark’s desires when it comes to education, given how young he is as well, how much voice does he have in his educational plan or goals?
We try, as he’s getting older now, we try to incorporate that as best we can. Luke, my oldest, is headed off to– he just graduated from high school, and he’s headed off to Syracuse University in the fall. Yep, he’s excited, looking forward to it. And actually Syracuse has one of the premier inclusive education programs in the– inclusive view, they call it.
So they’re offering lots of opportunities to students with disabilities to have a college experience. And Mark talks about that. But in terms of his day-to-day, I mean, I don’t think he loves school any more than most of us does. He loves–
The use of phrase that makes people’s skin crawl, well, that’s normal.
Exactly, well, but he loves his friends, he loves sports, he did bowling and basketball. So the sports were a big motivator for him, like I think they are for lots of students. He definitely– we went to Florida over spring break. And he ends up as he usually does chatting up a stranger at the water park in the pool, and she says, well, how old are you. And Mark says, I’m 16. She says, oh, you must be in high school. And he looks at her and says, I was. But I’m retired now, I live here in Florida.
So he’s got a career as a stand-up comedian, or a sit-down one.
I said to Mary, I said, I think he’s got the right idea. We’ll just skip to the end. Who needs– Let’s just skip to the end. Yeah, if he had his druthers, he would be retired and living in Florida. That’s OK, we encourage him. And he gets it through.
But I think to circle back to one of the things we were talking about, one of the things that we find, so by way of example. Mark is a very visual learner. So really good teachers make an effort to incorporate visuals in his learning. Well, guess what? Mark’s not the only visual learner in his class. And there are plenty of kids in the class who don’t have IEPs, or any diagnosis but learn better visually.
Or one of the things we say Mark is a kinesthetic learner. He learns best, works best, functions best, if you incorporate some movement into his day. And again, guess what? He’s not the only kinesthetic learner in his classes. There are plenty of kids there that have no diagnosis that are going to do better and be more engaged and active if you incorporate movement into your lessons. So we’ve often advocated teachers say, look, if you incorporate these things, quote unquote, “for Mark” our sense is that not only is it not going to be disruptive to the other students, it actually is going to enhance their learning as well.
Well, it’s funny that you say that. It’s not funny, it’s true. It’s scientifically factual, I mean, there’s so many–
This is why science classes include charts and graphs.
The visual part.
The visual part of the lesson is kind of important.
Same thing is true when you talk about kinetics, and you talk about adding movements, music. When I was teaching, I taught kindergarten, I taught the children this song “Fifty Nifty United States” that I learned from Mrs. Godfrey at Gwenda Avenue Elementary School. And I learned it I think in fourth grade, we would sing it for choir on Flag Day. So what did I do? I took her lead, but I did it with kindergarten kids.
And we would learn the song, and it had a rhythmic thing going on, the kids loved it. We had little body movements going to it. And I would prepare them to sing that in Flag Day. Well, the very first year I was teaching, before we even got to the end of the year, kids started asking, naturally, hey, Mr Rizzi, where’s Florida? Why? [INAUDIBLE] lives in Florida.
So I then got a map. And we started putting flags on the different states that the kids knew their family lived in, which then turned into questions of, Mr Rizzi, what’s all that blue stuff on there. That’s the Atlantic Ocean. Then I got floor maps. I’ve got puzzle maps and everything. And by the third year of teaching, most of my kids every year, my highest level learner could tell you at least 20 states. You could tell you three or four or five different oceans, a few different continents, and my lower level learners could tell you an ocean, a continent, and a handful of states.
Better than some 16-year-old kids who were left back a few times repeating seventh grade, because they’re sponges. And the rhythmic, and the numeracy of music, helped them remember alphabetically all these states. And I was told it’s not kindergarten curriculum, it’s too soon for them to learn that, take it down.
And they do the same thing to kids who are in, I don’t even like the word anymore, special needs. But it’s what we use, it’s what is politically correct. But kids who have different learning styles, and different learning abilities, are always relegated to something dumbed down or less than. And that’s just not good.
Now, the other example I’ll give is if you came to my law firm, so you would find me, if I’m writing a brief or something, I like the door closed. I could never learn to dictate. I love to type, and I’m going to be streaming ’90s alternative on Pandora while I’m typing away with the door closed. So my law partner, Tom, he paces the halls and dictates, because he’s old school. He never learned to type, he hunt and pecks. So he has a dictation a little tape recorder, and he wanders the halls and dictates his briefs.
And then one of my other partners, Janet, she likes to write her briefs longhand on yellow legal pads. And then gives it to the secretary. Now, if you tried to make me dictate my brief or write my brief out longhand on a legal pad, that would be a disaster. I would hate it. I would hate every second of it, and the quality of the brief would suffer. And likewise, if you tried to make Tom hunt and peck, let alone listen to ’90s alternative rock, it would be a disaster.
But we’re all practicing law. And how silly would it be to assume that we all had to write a brief exactly the same way? That would be ridiculous. No, worse than ridiculous. And so we accept that and understand that in our own lives. That’s why I usually like to push back on the phrase special needs, and say it’s human needs, maybe being met in particular ways, but all of these things– or individual needs, everything Mark needs is something we all need right.
No. Yes, no, and that’s the thing, yes. I always say no, and I’m supposed to say yes, but I get yelled at all the time. So there you are yes, no. No, yes, it must be a Long Island thing. Do you do that up in Buffalo.
Anyway, that’s another thing that we argue, I’m going to say passionately, because that can go either way, it’s a double-edged sword. About digital equity, for people who are print disabled, that’s people with sensory loss, people with mobility issues, cognitive delays, learning disabilities, and our aging contingent of people that is huge. When we, and you seem to believe this too, I can hear it in your voice. And I can hear it in your examples, which I am going to use at one of my next speaking engagements, but I hope you don’t mind.
By all means.
Oh, please. I let corporations know and government agencies know that if we fix this, so blind people can use your product or access your program with their eyes closed, fundamentally, you improve the usability and functionality for 90% of the population of people of ability, and improve it by 10% for people who, as I like to say, are temporarily able.
Your point of if we teach Mark based upon the same needs as your quote unquote, “normal students” it’s a win-win. You don’t have to specialize and/or retrofit education like we tell people to retrofit their digital platforms after they’ve ignored the learning style, or the user style of a consumer. Instead if you place a setting at the table, anticipating they will come, just like field of dreams, you build it, they will come. That’s it.
And that’s how we should start looking at our global society in general. We need to be inclusive. We need to let people with disabilities who are able to do x,y, and z, do x,y, and z. I always use the story of “Forrest Gump” as a divine in a medium of ability. And if we say there’s 62 million people in this country today with a disability, 31 million, and I’m being overly conservative, require daily help and constant care.
The other 31 million are going to be like Mark getting a high school diploma, who might be able to get a job if he wants to, if he’s not retired by the time he’s 17, to work at a restaurant, to maybe do phone calls at a desk, as opposed to being forced on to disability insurance and public assistance. And possibly get a job and become a taxing– instead of being a tax independent, become an independent tax payer.
And then you’ve got people like me who’ve got master’s degrees, and the “Forrest Gump” concept, he overcame social inequities, mental challenges, socioeconomic challenges, and because he had, and this is a mantra at our house, and in the work we do, he had access to the right tools that promoted his ability, which allowed him to make infinite possibilities in his life. And that’s what Mark needs, that’s what everybody who walks a different way, talks a different way, rolls through life, sees things from a different angle.
We should all be entitled to live life to its fullest with the least restrictive environment, barrier-free opportunities, so we can use our degrees we can actively participate in society because there are technologies out there that allow us to build on our innate abilities because we– I don’t know. It just it’s too important to not allow people of ability to pursue things outside of what has been traditionally told that they could do, or the antiquated myths and misperceptions about what we can.
Couldn’t agree more. Well said.
So now what does John Paul do? What grade is he in? Because you didn’t tell us where he is.
Yes, John Paul is going into seventh grade.
That’s when– the seventh grade is when I really started to really go into– I loved school. Oh my God. My whole junior high school– I am a nerd, shut up.
We have a funny– I think hopefully helpful dynamic. So Mark has a brother on each side. And Luke was always the at-home teacher and therapist. So Luke is very detail-oriented. He always wants to organize things, and how can we make this better. And how can we keep Mark on task and teach him things.
Excellent skills for help.
Yeah, and then John Paul, he’s just up for some fun times. He’s very– Yeah–
Probably what Luke says.
Right. So, Mark, you want to do some crazy business, and run around, and watch the same movie three times?
Sure, that sounds like fun to me. Sure.
So they, hopefully, I think they give him a nice balance on either side.
How do you think Mark is going to– I’m assuming Luke is going away to school?
How do you think they’re going to handle that?
Yeah, I’m more worried about dad at this point than I–
I thought you’re going to say mom–
Well, it’s both, it’s both.
It is so funny that you say that though, Pat, when my nephew, my godson, Jonathan, went to college, my brother and I are not close. And I spent hours, maybe an hour and a half, two hours in the backyard talking to him about, it’s OK. And all the different things he was worried about, and I’m like, well, how is he going to deal with you and Roseanne having a meltdown.
Seriously, I saw a funny cartoon of first day of school. And of course, it was like the parents trying to drag the kid into school. And then it was first day of college, and it was the parents trying to hold the kid back, like don’t go, don’t go. Yeah, it’s a funny, trippy kind of thing. Of course, the irony of it is, this is the whole point. We’re supposed to launch them into the world.
This is the whole thing we’ve been preparing them for, is to go out into the world and live independent lives of meaning and flourishing. But then when it comes down to it, yeah, you’re filled with all these feelings of–
You’re not ready yet. Stay with daddy.
No, the boys were teasing me. We were having an otherwise kind of routine family dinner. And I got emotional. And Luke’s says, dad, what’s going on? I said, it’s the five of us sitting around a table having a meal. All of us are home in under one roof, and that’s a sacred, special, precious thing. And it’s a finite, scarce resource. We only have so many of these left, and at a certain point, when you’re here, you’re going to be visiting, because you’re not going to live here anymore.
But so yeah, you process all those things. We’ll see. We’ll see. Mark right now is just kind of excited. I don’t think he’s really processed it. I’ll say, it was very happy during the pandemic. My wife has worked from home throughout pretty much her entire career. I worked from home. We were extra cautious about COVID because of Mark.
And so I was home for pretty much 13 months straight, I was working from home. He really enjoyed having everybody at home all the time. So yeah, we’ll see how we adjust to it. But luckily, Syracuse is just right down the road. So in fact–
It’s not too far. What is it? Like an hour and a half?
Yeah, so I said to Luke. I said, oh, we’ll be out every Saturday for dinner. He says, that’s great, but every Saturday?
Every Saturday? Yes, every Saturday?
Oh, God, that’s funny.
Oh, my God.
Yeah, well, now that I’m a hermit, I can relate. Oh, my God.
My family does dinner every Sunday.
Every Sunday, and then they pop in on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Oh, they all live within a stone’s throw of here.
Yeah, it is what it is. No but I wasn’t even laughing at that till you gave me the on-check. But I remember going to college, and my parents wanted me to stay close enough. But that way you can get home easy? And I’m like, get home easy? I said, I’m not coming home. I’m bored here. So tell Luke to have a good time at college for sure.
So now you do speak on this topic, I mean, where do you do your speaking? What kind of work are you doing outside of the law firm? Am I misunderstanding that?
I have a blog that I post not as regularly as I should, but I post on a blog. I got a Facebook page primarily to share my blog posts. I speak to parent support groups. I’ve done, we call them continuing legal education in order to stay admitted as attorney, I have to do a certain– so I’ve spoken at continuing legal education.
And then I speak a couple of times a year, I have some professors at the School of Education at Syracuse that asked me to come to speak. And then we have Utica University here. I speak to those classes. Usually when I speak to those classes of aspiring teachers, I’ll start off with something like, please put me out of business. Let me go back to being a bankruptcy lawyer, so parents don’t need a lawyer to navigate special education. Go forth and become special ed directors and principals and superintendents–
Do it right–
–teachers, and do the right thing. I always love those opportunities. And each group of people forwards me a different opportunity to speak. And I speak about those seclusion myths, I speak about– I have a particular passion for supporting students who have really challenging behaviors. What their legal rights are, and some practical strategies that I’ve found.
And then just in the past seven or eight months, I’ve become very involved with an organization called The Reading League, which tries to work to promote the advancement of the science of reading in schools. I’ve had just too many really heartbreaking stories of students who just received really, really poor reading instruction. So I’ve become passionate about that as well.
So now this is, I don’t know, it’s kind of a personal question with a legal hat, or a legal hat with a daddy hat, I don’t know. Figure out what hat you’re wearing when you answer this question. If a parent, or a future parent came to you, and found out that they were having a child that required attention, let’s just go real broad and general.
I don’t think most parents know what to do when they’re having their first child to begin with, let alone their first child with a disability. But if somebody came to you how would you guide them in what is already an anxious time riddled with so many different rabbit holes we could go down, if they found out that there is a chance that the child will have a disability?
I guess I would say a few things. First of all, yeah, one day at a time. You don’t need to try to learn everything, process everything, advocate for everything, know everything the first day. It’s a journey. So just take it one day at a time and do the best you can and worry about things only insofar as worrying inspires you to take action to help solve problems, and prepare yourself, and try as best you can to leave it at that.
So I would say, take things one day at a time. Don’t try to tackle everything at once. Two is find community. One of the things I talk about with families a lot is I think having a child with special needs, there’s a lot to be grateful for. There is a heightened human experience, and a world that your eyes are open to, and a gift that child is in many ways precisely because of their differences. But it’s hard, and there’s nothing that any of us can do to make it easy, but none of us should feel like we have to do it alone.
So don’t ever feel like you have to do it alone. Find some community, whether that’s online, in person try to find some community of people who are having a shared experience and swap ideas, or just spend time pouring out your troubles with each other, and do that. And then I always say to self-care. There’s a reason why when you fly on an airplane, they say in the event of an emergency, when the oxygen mask drops, put your oxygen mask on first, because you can’t help someone unless you take care of yourself.
So ultimately, being an advocate for a person with a disability can consume you. Whatever self-care is for you, whether that’s friendship, meditation, prayer, wine–
Whatever self-care means for you–
I am loving you more and more, man.
Whatever that means for you, don’t neglect self-care. And then and then I cannot think of a better way to try to navigate the life of a parent of a child with special needs than the serenity prayer, that I’m trying to figure out the things I can change and be uncompromising. I say to parents, we’re not going to hide under our desk. We’re not going to take the school’s word for it. Sometimes you need to say no, sometimes you need to fight, and sometimes you need to sue.
And there’s nothing to be ashamed about, and sometimes that’s fiduciary. Having said that, you can’t fight every battle. It’s not productive, it’s not helpful, and it’s not sustainable. So trying to figure out what battles we need to fight and what things we need to let go and praying, seeking, meditating, the wisdom to know the difference between those two things, is really central, in my view, to the journey.
And most people don’t realize that the serenity prayer isn’t just for alcoholics.
No, absolutely. Right. Oh my goodness. No and that’s just one of the things–
Maybe for Christians.
Christians. People don’t even have– don’t think–
For everyone. God is all empowered. It’s not just for Christians. It’s not just for Christians–
That was one of the only prayers that I remembered from.
One of the few that made it through.
So the serenity prayer you learned in school?
I think it was more like during my communion when I was really little.
And I think a lot of the insights run through whether it’s stoicism or just philosophy.
I literally just read like two books on stoicism.
Right, and often the serenity prayer will come up, and stoicism that focusing on things you can control. Those insights, I think, are universal.
Are universal, no. And it’s so funny, again. I’m smiling and my face is hurting me because of what you just brought up with the stoicism. And that’s one of the things too, that I’ve learned. And I think that people like Mark, people like me, people like members of our team, Jeff, when people have a disability, because we can’t approach things in the quote unquote, “normal manner” we have to be people who think outside the box. We have to be patient. I hate the fact that I have to be patient.
We have to think things through. We have to be disruptive in a way that allows us to problem solve and navigate what most people take for granted, when they pick up a glass, when they open the door, when they try to use a computer. And I just think that we need to take a good hard look at ability and understand that just because we are in that community that has a general term of people with disabilities, when you take a look at the spectrum of ability, there are a tremendous number of people whose lives are being minimized because they’re not being taken seriously for what they can lend to our human condition.
And when I lost my eyesight, I dove deep into poor people with disabilities. And I think anyone who has a disability, and everyone who doesn’t, should do a Google search on what has changed and how our world has been improved, and how the human condition has been advanced by people with disabilities.
I mean, you don’t need to go further back than Sir Richard Branson right now. Severe dyslexia, the man has gotten us into space. Albert Einstein had dyslexia. Some many famous people throughout history, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And you can go back further than that.
I think the very first reference to a person with a disability was in a poem about a Indian Queen who lost her leg, and just drove, she was a badass, she just drove an iron spike into her leg and climbed on top of her horse. And led her army into battle. So I think it’s high time that the disability community, and that’s the entire spectrum. We can’t be myopic in looking at our communities exclusively or solely through a microscope. We’ve got to look at the mosaic that our community is so we can be woven into the larger mosaic that is the fabric of America.
And I also, to add to that, I think the education sphere and the work that you do, the other part of it is, I feel as though we’ve made some really remarkable progress enacting laws that are designed to promote inclusion and access and equality of opportunity. They just remain all too often dusty on the law like shelves, and not executed.
Oh my God, I was biting my tongue to you. I keep, again. There are so many political parties that feel over-regulation is a bad thing. I’m not sure that I agree, but I’m not sure I disagree. What I don’t need, is another law that’s going to do something the same way. We have plenty of laws in place, aside from the ADA, having to be flushed out because of confusion around whether or not the internet is a public forum versus a nebulous thing that we don’t use, and we don’t hang out at, and we don’t socialize, we don’t shop at, and we don’t go–
The laws are pretty clear if we just are educated about them, and we know how to enforce them and exercise them. I think we can fine tune things like now the internet was never even considered to not be a public something, but there’s so much truth in what you just said about there are laws that are in place. We just need to arm ourselves with them and understand that Lady Justice has a disability or ability.
Seeing is not believing, as evidenced by the fact that she wears a blindfold because truth can only be felt, smelt, touched, sensed, whatever you want to use. Everything but seen, so we have laws in our favor, and we have Lady Justice who is a member of the tribe. So exercise your rights if somebody is trying to step on them, but also educate yourself so you know when, like you said before, Pat, when to fight, and when not. Because not every fight is something we could manage.
And that’s one of my special education myths that I talk about, the myth is this is someone else’s job. So I say, it’s our job. And when it enacted IDEA, Congress deputized us. They gave parents are the ones that have the right to bring litigation to enforce the guarantees of a free appropriate public education, and least restrictive environment. It’s us. We’re private attorneys general deputized by the government to go and execute these rights. So it’s the parent’s job, supported by lawyers, and educators, and advocates, to say, look, these are what the students’ rights are. And part of my job is to help translate those rights into reality.
And that is something that is so sorely needed. But, again, parents understanding they are probably the best influencers, and the best resource their kids have. And just not to pass over or ignore a truth for me as an educator, what we do in the schools, if the parents aren’t fully immersed in and participating in their child’s academic life, can be undone in 15 minutes, because there isn’t a working relationship, an open communication between the parents and the teacher.
Relationship that’s– I try to talk to parents about all the time, is we cannot lose sight of the fact that it is a relationship. And like all relationships, the home-school relationship runs on trust and communication. Keeping that going is critical.
So it ended up, as I mentioned at the beginning, Mary has always worked from home, and then we lived near my in-laws. So as it happened, the first day I dropped Luke off at nursery school, that was the first time he had ever been in the care of someone he wasn’t related to. Because all our– Mary was at home with them, and babysitters were grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles or something. So I drop him off at school, and this is kind of weird– maybe it’s a lawyer thing, the weird things that go through my brain as I’m walking out of the nursery school. I said, I just left my son with strangers.
I don’t even really know these people. I mean, they seem nice enough, but they’re strangers. One of the things I talk to about when I speak to teachers and educators is to explain why parents sometimes get very upset as part of this process. And maybe say or do intemperate things, because, of course, I thought that, and then I laughed. And said, Luke is perfectly fine.
And sure I was relying on the teachers to look out for him, and teach him, and– but at the end of the day, obviously, I wanted Luke to have a great education, but I knew, sort of no matter what, he was going to graduate from high school, and go to college, and get a job, and like the tremendous, tremendous likelihood that no matter how indifferent or skilled or dynamic his teachers were, he was going to go just along, just do just fine in school, and life, and make friends, and make gains.
But for Mark, the stakes are completely different. His ability to read, to make friends, to work in a group, to be able to advocate for himself and learn activities of daily living. What school does or does not do for him makes a tremendous difference in the quality of his future. And so we’re very mindful, parents have to be very mindful of the stakes.
It’s been very enlightening.
To say the least.
Great conversation, very nice to meet you. And talk to you today. We have one last question that we’d like to ask, and it’s just what’s the future hold for you?
Well, other than–
When’s the book coming out?
Oh, thank you. Yeah, we’ll see. That’s definitely on some day maybe list. My short-term future involves sending large amounts of my earnings to Syracuse University.
Sue the New York State system. Thank you very much.
I love the work that I do. I consider it an honor and a privilege to be able to represent the families that I do. I’m going to keep advocating. Like I said, there’s a big gap between what the law says and what actually happens. And what we know and what we can do for students with disabilities, and what is actually done. So I’m honored to be able to do that work as long as I’m able to do it. I’m not quite ready to join Mark in retirement in Florida.
Not just yet. Not just yet. But, yeah, so I’m going to keep at it, and keep making a nuisance of myself to schools as best I can, and supporting families. But yeah, that’s what the future holds, at least at this point.
So if someone needed to connect with you or touch base with you for guidance, legal advice, how would they reach you?
Google my name. If you Google Patrick Radel attorney, it’ll come right up–
Spell the Radel part.
Sure, yeah. R-A-D-E-L. I am on Facebook. Like I said, it started off to promote my blog. There are, I warn people if they find Buffalo Bills fan posts triggering me, might want to mute from September to January, and then come back come back in February for the special ed tips and news, because I can’t promise– I can’t promise that some Buffalo Bills fandom posts won’t creep in.
But yeah, usually if you Google my name, it’s right there. And always happy to connect with people, and share resources. I do wish there were more lawyers in this space, because it does become the case, unfortunately, it seems to happen earlier and earlier, we have sort of– I call it special ed season. So I get a big spike in May and June, because, of course, that’s when people have the meetings for the upcoming year.
And then also September and October because we started–
–year and things are melting down. And so, yeah, it does seem to be sooner and sooner every year. I end up having to start turning people away, just because I’m so fully committed and just one person. But I do the best I can.
So if there was a passionate aspiring lawyer with a focus on disability law, should they look up the firm?
Oh, I’d love it. Yeah, please.
It’s available in unlimited quantities, and I think there are a few areas of the law where you can make a real–
A difference and a living. I had one where, we were actually, so the student– it resonated with me because it was the middle boy of three brothers. It was a rural school. So they were K to 12 in one building. And they got to middle school, and the school said, OK. Student disability is a cognitive impairment. He needs to go to a special ed program 45 minutes away.
And it was completely, completely devastating to the family, because, of course, he was so connected. And they were so connected with this community. So we’re having the hearing. We challenged it through a due process hearing. And the hearing officer is appointed, we’re having a hearing. So it would look like a trial, objection, exhibits, cross damage, except we’re sitting around a conference table at a school.
Like a mediation of sorts.
Right. And we break for lunch. And the dad says, actually, they’re having the pep rally for the soccer team in the gym right now. You want to go see the student. So I say, sure. So we go in there. And the gyms cheering going crazy. And they’re, right in the middle of it, with a bunch of buddies, is my guy, is my student. And I thought, boy this would be totally inappropriate, but I would love to get the hearing officer–
— and say, look.
This is what you need.
Right there, this is why we’re here. But for this next year, this time, he’s 45 minutes away completely disconnected from this community. And I was so grateful that we were successful in that hearing. And that was now several years now. He’s still on track now to graduate from that school. But what more can you ask for than the opportunity to make a difference. And also take the guarantees that have been enacted for the protection and benefit of a vulnerable population, and breathe life into them.
Well, that’s a third area of law I think I would have liked to have pursued without any sort of worry that people would hate me as a lawyer, which seems to happen when you guys graduate.
Disability law, I know some of them was–
How can you hate that?
Well, you know it’s funny you say that. It is a very specialized practice, on both sides, on the school side, and on the parents side. The joke I usually make, you know the expression, same circus, different clowns.
So there’s so few of us special ed lawyers, it’s different circus, same clowns.
The same group of us. So yeah, I get mixed reaction from school side attorneys. I think some of them appreciate what I do and appreciate it when I get involved in a case, but sometimes things can be just really contentious between home and school, and hopefully, I can help to kind of moderate and create a process for resolving that.
And I’m sure some of them, the attorneys and the school side people, think that I’m being unrealistic. And pushing too hard, too fast in circumstances that they think would be better left to their judgment and their preexisting process. But and I try to take account for that as best I can, but I think part of my job is to try to push the envelope, and try to assert my client’s rights as vigorously as we can and–
And To laugh clown, laugh.
I love the clowns. I can’t wait to use that one with my lawyer friends. Well, Pat. Thank you so much for joining us today. Give our best to Mary, Luke.
Don’t tell me.
And the other 12 disciples.
The other 12 disciples. That’s nice how to going to it, like Luke, Mary, Paul, John.
Oh my God, Mark, and John Paul. This is crazy. Thank them for letting us have you at this moment, instead of being with them. And really, really, really appreciate this. I’d like to invite you to do some, write some blogs and be a guest blogger on our website at myblindspot.org, and definitely come back and tell us some more stories about kids you’re keeping on a path for academic enrichment. And hopefully, we can partner together to enforce laws to get them to go to work because that’s what the next step is going to be for some of them.
My pleasure. Great conversation and appreciate the opportunity, and appreciate all you do. And this was great.
Thank you, sir.
Thank you, Patrick.
Well, that was a really great interview. Pat is a remarkable guy.
And I just don’t know that I could ever go there with– his name is the only name that doesn’t fit into the Bible, Pat. You got a Mary, Luke, Mark, and John Paul. Quite a remarkable man. Everything that he said, it was kindred spirits. I totally loved him, and I really appreciate, respect, and value his efforts, and the time he puts in to empower people with disabilities to take their rightful place in academia.
Yeah, I mean, this was an episode that kind of hit close to my home, because I grew up dealing with IPA’s and resource rooms, and all that stuff.
IPA’s are beer, you were dealing with IEPs.
It just goes to show that your disability is still prevalent and present, but it doesn’t really complicate matters unless we’re ordering a beer, instead of–
Or if I’m trying to remember an acronym of any kind.
It was interesting as I was listening to him speak having– we’ve known each other for 14, 15, 14 years now. The conversations I’ve had with your mom about the effort she put in. And the conversations I’ve had with you about Catholic school, and all the resource rooms and those things and understanding.
And I’m not sure if I mentioned it during the conversation, but the Catholic schools that I went to had a better grasp on education for people with disabilities. Maybe it was because funded by the parents, and the parents had a more vested interest in their kids’ education, I don’t know. Or maybe just because when I was in elementary school and middle school that was like the ’90s. And then the early 2000s is when I was in high school. So it’s just like a natural progression. I don’t know.
It goes back to what Pat said about it being a relationship. Again, when he told us about how he dropped Mark off at school and said, I’m leaving my child with a stranger. And as an educator, and as somebody who really–
Or it’s just a parent thing.
But it is, it’s a parent thing, but parents need to embrace the fact that there is a relationship. You need to know the teacher, the person who you’re leaving your most treasured possession to. And I think that’s where it’s important to advocate for an open dialogue between the parents, the teachers, and the student, regardless of their ability. It is a trifecta of sorts that we need to consider as we look for academic enrichment of our future leaders.
So it was really enlightening. And it did open my eyes to a few things, and understanding that there are laws out there to protect and ensure equal access and barrier-free access to education for people of ability. Really, really great time. And I just I urge people to reach out to Pat if you have a need.
And if I remember correctly, he’s also looking for future lawyers who can represent the disability community as adeptly as he does. So he needs extra hands. So reach out to Pat and his firm. And if this is a topic that interests you, please remember to read my blog on students and disabilities and academia. It really does tie-in and dovetail nicely to what Pat speaks about.
Go to myblindspot.org where you can find that, and many other of our blogs.
And keeping your eye out for our next podcast where we will be speaking with Virginia Jacko, who is the CEO of the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind. In addition to running one of the top nationally recognized organizations to support people who happen to have blindness or a visual impairment, not only is she the CEO and president of the Miami Lighthouse, but Virginia is also a member of the club. She has lost her eyesight due to retinitis pigmentosa. So she just really goes out of her way to make sure people like us have a representation at the table of inclusion.
As we close for today, feel free to reach out to us at our website, myblindspot.org/ AccessAbilityWorks. You can also email us directly at podcast at myblindspot.org. Feel free to reach out to us on social medias, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.
And if you have an idea or a topic that you’d like us to discuss, please, we’re all ears. We’ve gotten a few recommendations, and we hope that we are delivering on our promise of a wealth of information as it relates to people with disabilities having access, and creation of possibilities in their lives. That’s it for today, folks, this has been AccessAbility Works, a podcast about the possibilities that accessibility means for people with disabilities. I’m Albert Rizzi.
And I’m Jonathan Hermus.
Thanks for listening.
That’s all for today, folks. This has been “AccessAbility Works Podcast.” A podcast about no wait–
Can you compute [INAUDIBLE]?
Yeah, I didn’t like the way we podcast, guess podcast, it’s sounded redundant. It’s podcast, podcast, podcast.
It’s a podcast.
It’s a podcast, it’s a podcast, podcast.
Everyone knows who Elon is, to be sure.
I don’t know. [INAUDIBLE].
There’s only one Elon. Anyway, Elon Musk.
Thank you, Elon Musk.
If we say it three times, he’ll appear behind you.
Elon Musk. Elon Musk. Elon Musk.
[END OF TRANSCRIPT]
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