Wilson Baker

The Project

Wilson will advocate to build fully funded alternatives to police that consider the unique cultural needs of people of color and people with disabilities.

More than half of Black people with disabilities in the United States are arrested by the time they turn 28. Police are sixteen times more likely to kill someone with a disability than a person without a disability, and three times more likely to kill a Black person than a white person. Many arrests and deaths happen when the victim is in a mental or behavioral health crisis. In most cities the existing crisis response service is a police officer with handcuffs and a gun. When police respond, the situation often escalates into an arrest, or a death–especially for people of color.

Fellowship Plans

Wilson’s project will use novel legal arguments rooted in equal protection, disability rights, and racial justice to litigate, advocate, and educate for a fully funded non-policing mental health crisis response in California. Wilson will work alongside community members and organizers, and he will leverage his personal experiences to help shape a community-led and culturally responsive alternative to police. Wilson will also develop a resource manual that will collect examples of alternatives to police in other jurisdictions as well as outline how to build emergency response and community treatment infrastructure.

Wilson’s experience supporting people with mental health disabilities at all stages in the criminal legal system inspired him to focus on police interactions. By working to limit police interactions and providing fully funded mobile crisis responses, Wilson’s project will reduce the number of people who are trapped in the criminal legal system.

My Equal Justice Works Fellowship provides me an opportunity to serve my community by protecting people from the harms that come when people of color and people with disabilities have unnecessary interactions with police.

Wilson Baker /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Mónica (she/her/hers) will leverage the collective-impact model to provide effective legal services and education to the special needs community at the Multi-Assistance Center (MAC) at Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, Texas.

According to the 2021 Justice Gap Measurement Survey in the United States, 10.7 million people with a disability have a household income below 125% of the federal poverty level. 82% of these households had at least one civil legal problem in the past year, 48% had five or more, and 27% had 10 or more. The disparity in access for these families goes beyond income inequality. These families are dealing with an onslaught of medical, behavioral, and emotional challenges, trying to do it all with extremely limited resources. The Multi-Assistance Center (MAC) at Morgan’s Wonderland is a one-stop-shop model connecting special needs families to the resources they need.

Mónica has dedicated the past 19 years to serving the special needs community as a volunteer, educator, and clinician. She went to law school to increase her skillset and to continue to expand on her mission.

Fellowship Plans

Mónica will provide legal services in one convenient location where families are also receiving medical and social services and collaborate with these providers to serve families most efficiently. Mónica will provide community training on legal issues to families and MAC staff, host recurring legal clinics to provide direct no-cost legal services, and plan for the program’s long-term sustainability.

Media

Texas Access to Justice Foundation Sponsors Five Fellows

My lifelong goal has been to make a difference in the lives of special needs families. I believe this Fellowship is a perfect fit for me, as it will allow me to meet that goal by capitalizing on my experiences as a provider, a business leader, and an advocate.

Mónica Palma /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Rebecca (she/her/hers) will advocate for Black and Brown students with behavior-related disabilities who are being excluded from the classroom in D.C. She will work towards her goal through legal representation, community outreach, and education.

In the wake of COVID-19—which exacerbated youth mental health and behavior needs in D.C. and across the country—many D.C. students with behavior-related disabilities are not receiving appropriate support and are instead being excluded from the classroom through shortened school days and placement in segregated educational settings. In fact, students with disabilities in D.C. are placed in separate schools at three times the national rate. Black and Brown students with behavior-related disabilities are particularly likely to be removed from the classroom and placed in separate schools, residential programs, or hospital facilities. For many students, this school pushout can have significant long-term consequences and may lead to academic difficulties, school dropout, and ensnarement in the juvenile justice system.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Rebecca will represent D.C. students with behavior-related disabilities in special education proceedings while seeking to secure access to education in the most integrated setting appropriate. Rebecca will collaborate with community-based organizations and stakeholders, including mental health providers, social workers, and parent advocates, to conduct outreach and provide training to families to promote self-advocacy in the special education process. Rebecca will also lay the foundation for systemic litigation to address the disproportionate exclusion of Black and Brown students with behavior-related disabilities.

Rebecca’s work is informed by her prior experience as a high school special education teacher in New Bedford, Massachusetts. She is dedicated to ensuring that students with disabilities have the opportunity to learn with their peers and receive the supports they need and are entitled to.

As a special educator, I witnessed the impact of exclusionary practices on my students. I am honored to have the opportunity to fight for all children—and especially those with the highest needs—to have access to quality, inclusive education.

Rebecca Raftery /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Amanda’s (she/her/hers) project will advocate for abortion access for disabled people through impact litigation, technical guidance on disability rights for abortion care professionals, and education outreach on reproductive rights.

Disabled people will experience the harshest outcomes resulting from the end of constitutionally protected right to abortion following the overruling of Dobbs and the subsequent wave of state laws restricting access to abortion. One analysis found that abortion bans in 26 states that are certain or highly likely to ban abortion could affect up to 2.8 million women with disabilities. Disabled people have an equal likelihood of becoming pregnant as nondisabled people yet they have significantly higher health risks while pregnant and are significantly less likely to have access to basic reproductive healthcare. As the abortion landscape is changing rapidly state-by-state, it is imperative that both abortion access advocacy and strategies include disabled people in impactful way.

After seeing several of her family members experience barriers due to disabilities, Amanda decided to focus her career on disability justice and combine it with her passion for reproductive justice.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Amanda will collaborate on amicus briefs to highlight issues that particularly impact disabled people in environments that restrict access to abortion, such as lack of accessible travel for disabled people seeking abortions. She also will create guidance on providing access to abortion healthcare based in disability rights for both abortion providers and abortion funds with feedback from disability self-advocates. Additionally, she will seek to build coalitions between the reproductive justice and disability justice movements to yeild a more intersectional and inclusive movement for abortion rights.

Media

Disability and Civil Rights Organizations File Amicus Brief to Texas Supreme Court on Texas Abortion Ban Exceptions

I deeply believe in the principles of intersectionality that are so critical in both reproductive justice and disability justice spaces. Everyone deserves accessible and inclusive abortion healthcare.

Amanda Spriggs Reid /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Calleigh (she/hers) provides direct legal representation, community outreach, and policy advocacy on behalf of students with disabilities who are being impacted by the literacy crisis in New York City.
Before the pandemic, less than half of all New York City students read proficiently, which signaled a literary crisis in the city; this number is significantly lower for students with disabilities. The literacy crisis has also had a disproportionate impact on students of color. Nearly two thirds of Black and Hispanic students are not reading proficiently, and students of color are disproportionately represented in New York City’s special education system.
East New York and Brownsville are two communities with a demonstrated need for increased literacy supports. Both neighborhoods serve predominantly Black and Hispanic students and have an above average percentage of students in special education. Only 10% of students with disabilities living in these two neighborhoods have achieved reading proficiency.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Calleigh will partner with community organizations in East New York and Brownsville to provide Know Your Rights trainings to families who have a student in the special education system. She will provide direct representation to students in these communities who have been harmed by the city’s failure to provide them with proper supports to achieve reading proficiency. Additionally, Calleigh will advocate for city-wide policy changes that increase access to literacy.
Calleigh’s commitment to serving students with disabilities is rooted in her experience as a third-grade teacher.

As a former teacher, I know reading is the most important skill a student will learn, and it is unacceptable to concede that students with disabilities will not achieve it.

Calleigh Higgins /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Tabitha (she/her/hers) advocates against the use of illegal and harmful disciplinary practices against students with disabilities by school districts in rural North and West Texas and represents youth who have been subjected to such practices.

Tabitha’s project is unique because it introduces services focused solely on the disciplinary issues faced by students with disabilities in North and West Texas. In these rural areas of Texas, there are about 70,000 students receiving special education services. Unfortunately, special education students are disciplined at a higher rate than their nondisabled peers. This is especially evident in rural areas because rural school districts lack the resources to train staff on behavioral supports. Higher poverty rates and language barriers in rural communities limit access to services and legal representation.

As a proud West Texan and younger sister of a former special education student, Tabitha is passionate about the issues that affect the families and communities she will be serving through her Fellowship.

Fellowship Plans

Tabitha will travel throughout North and West Texas to connect with rural communities. She will work to prevent the use of illegal disciplinary practices by utilizing the authority of Disability Rights Texas as the state’s protection and advocacy agency to monitor school disciplinary settings. To obtain justice for youth harmed by these practices, Tabitha will represent students in due process hearings and through administrative agency complaints.

Media

Texas Access to Justice Foundation Sponsors Five Fellows

My entire childhood, I witnessed my brother struggle every day against the world labeling him and treating him as other. I am incredibly honored to have the opportunity to fight for those who have experienced those same struggles.

Tabitha Dwyer /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Courtney (they/them/theirs) will work with Disability Rights Maryland to combat the unjust segregation of people with psychiatric disabilities by using legal advocacy, outreach, and state legislative advocacy to expand access to community mental health support and reduce unnecessary hospitalizations.

Maryland is amid a devastating mental health crisis fueled by a dearth of affordable and culturally responsive community-based support. According to Mental Health America, Maryland ranks third worst state for unmet mental health needs, with over 30% of people reporting that they were unable to access mental healthcare when they sought it out. Black and Brown Medicaid beneficiaries are most impacted by these barriers to care, which contribute to unnecessary hospitalizations, and too often trigger a tragic spiral of job loss, homelessness, social isolation, and worsening mental health. A comprehensive advocacy strategy is required to ensure Marylanders can access the support needed to avoid unnecessary institutionalization.

Courtney’s Fellowship was inspired by their own experiences with unnecessary institutionalization that directly resulted from their inability to access appropriate and affordable community resources. Courtney hopes to ensure all disabled Marylanders can access the support they need to remain in their community and achieve their dreams.

Fellowship Plans

Courtney will use trauma-informed lawyering to help individual clients challenge service denials barring access to community mental health support. Courtney will also create resources to provide impacted individuals with information on their rights to community inclusion. In addition, Courtney will engage in systemic advocacy by using legislative advocacy to expand community-based alternatives to hospitalization and evaluating whether systemic litigation may be needed to guarantee the right to community integration.

As someone who’s experienced unnecessary institutionalization due to an inability to access community support, I was fortunate to have lawyers to help me gain access to the support and resources I needed to thrive. I hope to use my Equal Justice Works Fellowship to pay that advocacy forward to others in my community.

Courtney Bergan /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Josh (he/him/his) will work with Equip for Equality to provide direct legal services to people with disabilities in Illinois who are re-entering the community from prison but are at risk of re-institutionalization due to a lack of adequate accommodations provided during and after discharge planning.

Hundreds of people with disabilities are released from Illinois prisons each year without the accommodations that they need in order to effectively integrate into society. Many of these individuals cycle through other costly systems: evictions, homelessness, and emergency rooms; and other institutions: jails, nursing homes, and inpatient facilities. This prison-to-institution pipeline is enormously harmful to these individuals, whose health frequently deteriorates during these destabilizing events. This unfortunate course of events happens because the state fails to coordinate and provide the services needed to support people with disabilities in living dignified lives in their communities upon reentry.

Josh witnessed the systemic barriers that his family and friends with disabilities face, which motivates his life-long pursuit of justice in partnership with disability justice organizers and lawyers.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Josh will seek to prevent this prison-to-institution pipeline by representing incarcerated people with disabilities through litigation and advocacy. This representation will focus on compelling the Illinois Department of Corrections and state agencies to provide the coordinated services needed to stop this cycle before it starts. For those released from prison without accommodations, Josh will utilize the community integration mandate under the Americans with Disabilities Act to address their need for disability-related services in the community to prevent institutionalization.

Many of my clients with disabilities describe feeling invisible after being released from prison. This Fellowship enables me to support disabled people who are released from prison to obtain reasonable accommodations that will help them live dignified lives in their communities.

Josh Goldstein /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Charla’s project with the Benefits Law Center will focus on providing culturally and linguistically competent legal services and education to immigrants, people of color, and people with disabilities in South King County, Washington.

Families of color and immigrants living in South King County experience tremendous barriers to accessing disability benefits. For immigrants and families of color, the inability to access benefits places them at risk of income insecurity and homelessness. While household members may be eligible, many families are afraid to apply based on fear of immigration consequences. Many families have members who are receiving benefits but are unsure how to navigate or comply with the program’s rules because of limited English proficiency.

Charla was inspired to pursue disability law by her personal and professional experience. Her work in early education and housing exposed her to the importance of projects that recognize the intersections of race, income, and disability. She has seen loved ones and community members struggle to obtain and then keep Social Security benefits.

Fellowship Plans

Charla’s Fellowship will address these issues by providing legal services to immigrants and families of color in South King County on Social Security matters. Charla will also conduct monthly trainings and create self-help materials for the target community. Additionally, Charla will establish partnerships with organizations serving this community and recruit and train pro bono attorneys to increase the project’s reach.

My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has afforded me the opportunity to serve the low-income and disability community in South King County as a resource that empowers and supports the agency and voice of others. I am humbled to work on a project that values and uplifts the dignity and identities of people with disabilities.

Charla Boley /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

E.V. (they/them) will increase housing stability for low-income Marylanders with disabilities by providing direct legal representation for people facing eviction or housing insecurity. Many people are faced with this issue due to the lack of adequate support services or the housing provider’s failure to provide reasonable accommodations or modifications to ensure equal use and access. E.V. will leverage the benefits of Disability Rights Maryland (DRM)’s Fair Housing settlements by systematically promoting the inclusion and integration of people with disabilities in the community.

While housing discrimination against people with disabilities is prohibited under Federal law, people with disabilities routinely face difficulty obtaining and remaining sustainably housed in affordable, accessible homes. People with disabilities are more likely to experience unemployment and poverty and are more likely than their non-disabled peers to be significantly rent-burdened. As of 2017, an estimated 44% of all recipients of federally subsidized housing assistance were people with disabilities. Like other low-income renters, people with disabilities often have difficulty finding legal representation, resulting in eviction and loss of housing, which often leads to worsened health outcomes.

Fellowship Plans

E.V. will provide direct legal representation to tenants with disabilities facing eviction, subsidy termination/denial, who require assistance submitting and negotiating reasonable accommodation/modification requests, or who are otherwise at risk of housing instability for reasons related to their disability in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Prince George’s County. In collaboration with other Equal Justice Works Housing Justice Program Fellows working in Baltimore City, they will engage in outreach and provide educational resources, including Know Your Rights trainings to community groups, participants of subsidized housing programs covered by Fair Housing Settlements, other service providers supporting people with disabilities, and coalition partners.