2025 Design-Your-Own Fellowship Applications are Open

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Headshot of Marlena Johnson

Marlena Johnson

  • Hosted by Equip for Equality
  • Sponsored by Anonymous
  • Service location Chicago, Illinois
  • Law school University of Illinois College of Law
  • Issue area Civil Rights/Civil Liberties, Disability Rights
  • Fellowship class year 2024
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

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

Meet Other Fellows Like Marlena

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Jessica Duncan Felfoldi

Host: Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc.

Sponsor: Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP

Mindy Friedman

Host: New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

Sponsor: DLA Piper

Andrea Jolliffe

Host: Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc.

Sponsor: McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP

Photo of Emma Shakeshaft

Emma Shakeshaft

Host: American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin

Sponsor: Kohler Foundation Inc., Quarles & Brady LLP