2012 Equal Justice Works Fellow, Zach Strassburger

Zach Strassburger

Name of Host Organization: KidsVoice
City, State: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Issue area: Disability Rights, Children/Youth
Sponsors: Anonymous

The Project

My project will represent these residentially isolated, high-needs youth in all of the spheres in which they may need legal assistance, from advocating for the appropriate school accommodations or placement to representing the young person in a family court proceeding. Further, Pennsylvania has new court rules requiring courts to take note of the health, education, and disability needs of youth. These rules are currently underutilized, and I want to be creative about implementing them to my clients’ advantage.

The Inspiration

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Youth with psychiatric disabilities in the foster care and juvenile justice system are frequently institutionalized, systematically traumatized and medicated too heavily, but they are less likely than young people outside these systems to have access to consistent mental health care, especially in regards to speech therapy. As a result, collateral consequences mount, from school discipline to juvenile court. First as a volunteer and then through my work in a law school clinic, I saw the impact a dedicated advocate could have.

Biography

Hometown:

Wexford, Pennsylvania

Law school:

Making the connection:

I knew while applying to law school that I wanted to understand the system and to use law to protect people’s rights, but it took me a little longer to realize how to use the skills I learned there.

Surviving law school:

I went from working with clients daily as a paralegal at the Legal Aid Society to interacting only with books and my classmates. Those were fine, but clinical experiences reminded me of why I had come to law school and what I wanted to do with my life.

Recommended books:

Eleanor Roosevelt, by Blanche W. Cook.-- A strong woman and a well-written biography. Disabled Rights: American Disability Policy and the Fight for Equality, by Jacqueline Vaughn Switzer -- A good introduction to the role of disability in American history and the modern disability rights movement.

Words to live by:

"It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it." (Pirkei Avot 2:21)

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