2025 Design-Your-Own Fellowship Applications are Open

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Rebecca France

The Project

Rebecca advocates for low-income families in Southern California by proactively utilizing limited conservatorships and end-of-life planning documents to ensure that seniors and adults with developmental disabilities receive access to necessary medical care.

A limited conservatorship is necessary for some adults with a developmental disability to access important medical care. However, many low-income families in Southern California do not have access to limited conservatorships and other legal planning documents. Limited conservatorships are often expensive and take over six months to complete with an attorney who can do the paperwork correctly, and longer for low-income families without legal expertise.

Rebecca is committed to improving opportunities for seniors and adults with developmental disabilities to age in place with dignity. Rebecca is passionate about promoting medical autonomy by proactively using planning documents.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Rebecca will conduct community outreach through education at senior centers, organizations serving children with developmental disabilities, and hospitals. With the support of pro bono attorneys, Rebecca will offer clinic style options throughout the area to help families with the complicated and time-consuming paperwork for Advance Healthcare Directives, Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Limited Conservatorships. Rebecca will represent low-income families throughout the probate court process.

"My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has afforded me the opportunity to serve low-income individuals in Southern California who have previously been unable to access important medical care and other necessary resources."

Rebecca France /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Elisa’s (she/her/hers) project seeks to leverage disability rights law to litigate and advocate for the release of incarcerated youth with disabilities in order to ensure they receive the necessary services in their communities.

More than 200,000 youth spend at least some time in juvenile detention in any given year. Nearly 70% of youth who enter the juvenile justice system have a mental health, sensory, or learning disability, and a third to 40% of detained or incarcerated youth have special education needs. Yet, instead of receiving specialized care in their communities, as they are entitled to under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), they are locked up in detention centers that further exacerbate their symptoms and traumas. Detained children are often subjected to damaging and horrifying conditions—such as physical violence, little or no education or mental or health care services, and 23 hours a day of solitary confinement.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Elisa will utilize an integrated advocacy approach to advocate for the decarceration of imprisoned youth with disabilities. Elisa will bring litigation against individual facilities, conducting policy advocacy in partnership with community members, and developing training materials for public defenders to center disability rights advocacy in their individual client work. Additionally, she will increase awareness of the harms inflicted on children with disabilities by carceral environments through public education initiatives.

The Project

Hannah’s (she/her/hers) project seeks to advocate for children with learning disabilities by providing skills-based, self-advocacy workshops and direct representation to support families in navigating discriminatory education systems throughout California, with a special focus on the Antelope Valley region of Los Angeles.

In the Antelope Valley, a remote and underserved region in northern Los Angeles County, school districts systematically discriminate against Black students and students with disabilities by disproportionately disciplining them, underserving them, and then segregating them from their peers through needlessly restrictive placements, suspensions, expulsions, and transfers to alternative schools. This results in a staggering number of students not accessing the public education opportunities and resources to which they are entitled to under state and federal law. Parents and students are the most effective advocates, but they are given little to no information on how to advocate within school systems geared towards pushing them out. This project addresses this access to justice gap, providing parents and students with the information and resources they need to effectively advocate.

Hannah’s personal and professional experiences in the education field, as well as her work with families in the Antelope Valley during law school, inspire her interest in education law and motivate her to serve this community.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Hannah will facilitate skills-based workshops to train parents, students, and community members on relevant education law and self-advocacy strategies, as well as develop and publicize a bank of self-advocacy materials to be available state-wide. Additionally, Hannah will represent Antelope Valley families in special education and student disciplinary cases and train pro bono advocates on education law topics to increase access to justice for families in California.

As a first-generation graduate and former educator, I have felt and seen the transformative power of public education as well as the obstacles hindering meaningful access to it. By collaborating with parents and students, I hope to help more students access their education.

Hannah Rushton /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Madi’s (she/her/hers) project will create a new pipeline of law students and lawyers to prevent housing instability and homelessness for low-income people with disabilities. Madi will establish a Fair Housing Workshop and Clerkship Program in collaboration with Texas law schools, provide direct representation, and conduct trainings for Central Texas and county staff.

According to the CDC, 28% of adults in Texas have a disability. People with disabilities experience poverty and housing issues at a higher rate than people without disabilities. The deficit of affordable and accessible housing in Texas leaves people with disabilities at an increased risk of facing homelessness, chronic health conditions, and institutionalization. However, even a relatively small change in policy or procedure makes a difference between a person having a place to live and homelessness. Housing remains a persistently overlooked sector of disability rights law, even though stable housing gives people with disabilities a foundation for autonomy and integration in their communities.

Madi believes housing is a human right that serves as the foundation for all other civil rights. Madi is motivated by the belief that everyone deserves autonomy and has a passion for advocating for others so they can focus on taking care of themselves.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Madi will establish a Fair Housing Workshop and Clerkship Program, where law students will gain hands-on experience assisting with housing matters casework for underserved clients with disabilities throughout Texas. Matters will prioritize cases involving discrimination, modifications, and reasonable accommodation situations that will likely escalate to eviction if not addressed. Madi will also address the need for expanded Fair Housing Act education by developing and providing trainings to city or county staff in Central Texas and conducting Fair Housing CLEs for two rural Bar Associations.

Disability is incredibly wide-reaching and impacts most people at some point in their lives. While each person’s experience with disability is different, I recognize common threads of myself, my brother, and those I love in each client I help.

Madi Barney /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Maleeha (she/her/hers) will advocate for low-income New York City high school students with mental-health-related disabilities who are experiencing school avoidance, ensuring their right to services needed for graduation and post-school success.

Mental health challenges among students with disabilities have reached a crisis point after the COVID-19 pandemic and have created unprecedented levels of school avoidance, a condition where students strongly fear school and are unable to attend class. School avoidance is typically driven by anxiety, depression, and mood disorders and is widespread in New York City, where chronic absenteeism was 36% from 2022-2023, and is highest among low-income students, students of color, and students with disabilities. Under federal law, students with mental-health-related disabilities have a right to services from their school districts to help them overcome school avoidance and return to class, but low-income students with disabilities in New York City systemically fail to receive these services. Students are left at risk of dropping out, which hinders access to postsecondary opportunities and increases likelihood of contact with the criminal justice system.

Maleeha’s project is inspired by her previous experiences of working with students in New York City and her advocacy on school avoidance issues in her law school’s Education Law Clinic. She is committed to making education systems more equitable on an individual and systemic level.

Fellowship Plans

Maleeha will represent students with school avoidance at special education proceedings and will advocate for their mental health, academic, and other services needed to help students return to school and transition to life beyond high school. She will conduct know-your-rights trainings and develop a guide to serve as a novel blueprint on advocating for students with school avoidance. Maleeha also plans to participate in coalitions to develop policy recommendations on how schools can best support students with school avoidance.

The post-pandemic youth mental health crisis is disproportionately affecting the most marginalized students. I am honored to be able to advocate for these students so that they can access their right to an education.

Maleeha Chida /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Brian (he/him/his)  will work to increase access to education and mental health care for young people with disabilities in Philadelphia’s juvenile justice system through direct legal representation and advocacy for community-based alternatives to detention.

In Philadelphia, children with disabilities are dramatically overrepresented in the city’s juvenile justice system. Coming into contact with this system often disrupts educational progress and pushes kids with disabilities further to the margins, leading to higher rates of recidivism, lower graduation rates, and economic precarity. With the support of legal advocates focused on the unique barriers posed to them, children with disabilities can disrupt this cycle. Increasing access to free appropriate education and necessary mental healthcare is crucial to reducing recidivism and allowing children with disabilities to reach their potential.

Fellowship Plans

Brian will provide direct legal representation to kids with disabilities impacted by Philadelphia’s juvenile justice system, focusing primarily on educational rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and clearing obstacles to necessary mental healthcare. In addition to direct representation, he will work in coalition with community organizations to build more robust alternatives to detention and increase awareness in the community about the legal rights of children with disabilities in the justice system. Finally, he will produce a report on the issues faced by children with disabilities in the city’s juvenile justice system and potential solutions.

All children deserve to thrive. My Equal Justice Works Fellowship will allow me to continue advocating for young people in Philadelphia and fighting to access the resources they deserve.

Brian Thomas /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Cecilia’s (she/her/hers) project will provide educational and medical advocacy to children with complex medical conditions across the state of Alabama.

Children with high medical needs require high-quality medical and educational services to ensure they remain in their community, rather than an institution. In Alabama, many of these children live in rural areas with a lack of providers, leaving parents to take on the role of nurse and educator. While support is available through the school system, health insurance, and Medicaid Waivers, these systems can be challenging and time-consuming to navigate and coordinate. These children and families need an advocate who understands each system of support and can increase knowledge of and access to each system of support.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Cecilia will represent children in IEP and 504 Plan meetings to ensure appropriate school services are provided. She will assist families in accessing benefits through EPSDT and Medicaid Waivers, helping families apply for services and challenge unlawful denials. Additionally, she will conduct outreach to educate parents and providers about services specific to medically complex children.

My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has allowed me to ensure children are growing up in the community with their families. I am privileged to be a part of the team fighting for high-quality care and inclusion.

Cecelia Ballinger /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Ross (he/him/his) will advocate for higher education students with mental health disabilities, using direct representation and other strategies to safeguard their rights against discrimination by public educational institutions.

Although existing laws are meant to protect students from discrimination on the basis of mental health disabilities, institutions of higher education are rarely held to adequate compliance standards. With these disabilities proliferating on college campuses in recent years, the need for legal responses is increasingly urgent—especially for students at community colleges and other public institutions, where there is currently little advocacy infrastructure. Such students deserve protection when their schools seek to exclude them or otherwise discriminate against them, threatening their educations.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Ross will assert the rights of individual students in administrative proceedings regarding reasonable accommodations and involuntary withdrawal from enrollment. He will also develop and distribute self-advocacy materials, and he will build a regional referral network in order to train and connect other advocates. Finally, he will design and begin to implement an impact litigation strategy, creating a model for ongoing efforts.

Media

WashULaw 2024 Equal Justice Works Fellows

I was lucky enough to continue and complete my education after mental health struggles led to a long involuntary withdrawal from my undergraduate studies. Now it’s time to pay that fortune forward.

Ross Layton /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Laura’s (she/her/hers) project with the Eastside Legal Assistance Program seeks to protect indigent seniors’ fundamental rights to age with dignity, autonomy, and self-determination by expanding access to less restrictive alternatives to guardianship and supporting appropriate protective arrangements.

The number of seniors with dementia in Washington state is expected to double in the next 25 years. These seniors, especially those with marginalized identities, are at risk of experiencing elder abuse and fraud via overreaching and unwarranted guardianships. There is a large gap in the provision of advance legal planning services in Washington, which is an important service that can help prevent guardianships. This issue is further compounded by a lack of federal and state data collection on guardianships. This fellowship seeks to target two populations of seniors vulnerable to elder abuse: those with Limited English Proficiency and those living in rural areas.

Laura grew up in rural Idaho and has helped her grandparents deal with the impacts of dementia. She is passionate about assisting others as they navigate the complexities of living with memory loss.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Laura will provide individualized legal assistance to seniors vulnerable to potential guardianship proceedings by assisting with, and advising in, the completion of advance planning forms, such as powers of attorney. She will also work to expand Dementia Legal Planning Clinics to rural areas and to communities with Limited English Proficiency in Washington. Additionally, Laura will engage in educational outreach to expand access to information about guardianships and plans to develop a comprehensive report to help stakeholders better understand and evaluate the state of guardianship proceedings in Washington.

Elder justice is increasingly important to the broader movement for disability justice, and I am grateful to be able to advocate for the rights of seniors with dementia. This Fellowship is an invaluable opportunity to serve low-income communities close to home.

Laura Hannon /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Marlena (she/her/hers) will combat barriers to meaningful inclusion for people with non-apparent disabilities in downstate Illinois through direct representation, self-advocacy assistance, education, and community outreach.

Disability rights laws exist to enable full inclusion of people with disabilities in society, but these laws are often complex and difficult to navigate. For people with non-apparent, or “invisible,” disabilities, there are additional barriers to inclusion: disclosing and proving their disability and accommodation needs. As a result, people with a non-apparent disability often do not pursue their legal rights or request accommodations due to uncertainty about the process and concerns about disbelief, stigma, and scrutiny. In downstate Illinois, legal aid services are extremely limited, leaving this population without the tools needed to achieve full inclusion. People with non-apparent disabilities need accessible, affordable legal assistance to navigate these complex situations to reach meaningful access and to secure accommodations.

Marlena’s disability and strong connection to the downstate community motivates her commitment to increase resources and accessibility for people with disabilities across downstate Illinois.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Marlena will represent and provide self-advocacy assistance to people with non-apparent disabilities seeking accommodations in employment, higher education, government services, housing, access to businesses, and healthcare. She will develop informational resource toolkits to support people navigating the inclusion and accommodation processes. Additionally, she will facilitate trainings and outreach events to educate local communities on their rights, and create lasting connections with community organizations that will allow Equip for Equality to continue to better serve the downstate Illinois community.

As an autistic person from downstate Illinois, I have experienced the barriers to inclusion that many in the downstate Illinois non-apparent disability community struggle with. I am proud to be able to serve my community through this Fellowship.

Marlena Johnson /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow