2007 Equal Justice Works Fellow, Kendra Thomas
Name of Host Organization: Advocacy, Inc.
City, State: Austin, Texas
Issue area: Disability Rights
Sponsors: Pfizer Inc
The focus of this project is to advance the rights of adults with mental impairments in Harris County, TX by providing direct representation to people who have suffered housing or employment discrimination because of their mental disability; who are languishing on waiting lists; or who are denied access to health care services and supports. Through this project, education and training workshops are provided to private attorneys seeking pro bono opportunities and to adults with mental impairments and their families regarding their legal rights.
Prior to starting my legal career, I worked for ten years in mental health care as a counselor. Throughout my career as a counselor, I witnessed people with mental disabilities encounter barriers to living independently in the community because of discriminatory practices of landlords and employers and difficulty accessing complex health care bureaucracies. My experiences as a counselor inspired me to attend law school to develop the legal skills to provide direct representation to individuals with mental disabilities.
Making the connection:
As a counselor in the mental health community, I provided services to people with limited income and subsequent limited access to employment opportunities, affordable housing and comprehensive health care services. These issues were often exacerbated by the lack of awareness in the community of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act. I decided to go to law school to advance the rights of adults with mental illness and to facilitate education and training workshops about the rights of people with disabilities.
Surviving law school:
My career in public service began 10 years prior to law school when I worked as a counselor for the local community mental health provider. I decided to go to law school in order to develop legal skills to continue my work in public service. I worked full-time as a counselor and attended law school in the evening as a part-time student. The successes that I experienced as a counselor by assisting people with mental disabilities gave me the perseverance to complete my legal education and to continue my work in the mental health community.