Disability Rights Washington
Rachel Reed is interning for Disability Rights Washington, a nonprofit organization that protects the rights of individuals with disabilities through information and referral services, self-advocacy strategies, rights publications, policy analysis, community education, direct advocacy, and legal representation.
June 27, 2013
As an intern for DRW, I have been focusing on Technical Assistance (TA) provided to individuals in Washington who seek information and referral services on various disability related issues. TA allows people to call DRW (and/or write letters) to receive resources such as contact information for organizations and lawyer referrals through county bar associations, fact sheets, and other tools useful for self-advocacy.
My TA shifts have been especially rewarding because I am able to communicate directly with individuals in our community and throughout the state. When someone calls DRW, I interview them to identify issues, explore options for resolving these issues, research answers to inquiries, and develop information to share with callers. Lately, the majority of callers have been requesting information relating to SSDI benefits, and housing and employment discrimination, and many callers are prisoners or patients in state hospitals concerned about treatment in their facility. Prior to this internship I was (as ashamed as I am to admit it) unaware of the vastness and severity of discriminatory issues facing individuals with disabilities. I deeply admire DRW's determination and strategies for helping these individuals self-advocate, as well as lending a voice when appropriate.
Aside from TA, I have been given a central role in a statewide investigation into the services provided to individuals with developmental disabilities in nursing facilities. As a first assignment I conducted intriguing legal research into the tests and documentation for a specific developmental disability so that a determination could be made as to whether proper treatment has been given.
I was also fortunate to accompany the director of legal advocacy in visiting adults with developmental disabilities who were able to choose to live in their own homes with the help of in-home support staff, rather than in state-run institutions.
For my second project, I am working with DRW's director of public policy in analyzing the eligibility standards for people with developmental disabilities in Washington and conducting legal research into the eligibility standards for services provided by other state's developmental disability agencies. This research has been particularly meaningful because it allows me to learn alongside an experienced legislative lawyer, which has been a dream of mine for a long time.
Working for DRW has been a great learning experience; each of these projects has provided me direction in regards to my career path, and allowed opportunity for humbled personal growth.
Aug. 16, 2013
Interviewing community members about their issues and providing information and referral services to promote self-advocacy was in and of itself an educational experience. Not only was I working directly with individuals, but I also gained specific knowledge about each issue and how to guide someone through solving that issue. Actually seeing our efforts positively impact someone's life was extremely motivating, and having an individual express their sincerest gratitude for our work was heartwarming.
At the beginning of August I accompanied an attorney on a two-day trip to Spokane to monitor and investigate certain facilities. On the first day of the trip we visited a nursing facility for individuals with developmental disabilities. This was undeniably eye-opening. The second day of the trip was spent at one of the state's large institutions. My colleague gave a presentation about voting rights, and residents were able to meet with us individually to discuss their specific questions or concerns. During these private meetings we also assisted residents in registering to vote, which is a passion of mine stemming from previous grassroots activism and campaign work. Overall the trip was successful and certainly a learning experience for which I will always be grateful.
Interning for DRW was a wonderful, rewarding experience. From the beginning I felt fortunate to be working for an organization that allowed me to be so involved in multiple projects. I especially enjoyed being able to conduct record reviews for an investigation, and the countless opportunities to interview clients through Technical Assistance.
As I mentioned, I feel lucky to have been given the opportunity to work for DRW. Everyone in the office is extremely comfortable, friendly, and welcoming. There was always someone available for questions, and the supervisors are respectful of interns; it was encouraging to be given many opportunities to take on a great deal of responsibility.
Joining DRW's efforts in fostering a society that recognizes abilities rather than disabilities has solidified my commitment to a career in social justice advocacy. Through a career in public interest, I hope to combine my knowledge of the law with my passion for community involvement to advocate for the goals of disenfranchised groups. I deeply admire the work of DRW and believe whole-heartedly that this internship opportunity has built on my experience as an activist and provided me with the skills needed for public interest advocacy as an attorney.