Leading Disability Advocate Bruce Sexton joins Burton Blatt Institute as summer fellow under the guidance of Chairman Peter Blanck
May 20, 2016
"I now get to implement my first year law school training at the Burton Blatt Institute and I am excited".
Bruce Sexton, a Juris Doctor Candidate at Syracuse University College of Law, will be mentoring with BBI Chairman Peter Blanck in his legal studies and working on an array of research projects at the Burton Blatt Institute. The areas of research will range from independent living, to social security disability insurance, to issues relating to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Bruce says, "I am honored to be working with such an amazing group of disability advocates."
Bruce, grew up in Dublin, Calif., and is the fifth of seven children. His mother and two of his siblings are also blind. He began attending the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) conventions when he was 12. Bruce recalls, "It was an amazing experience to be around thousands of blind people." "I'd always heard 'you can do whatever you want,' but to meet all these doctors and lawyers was really inspiring."
Bruce's mother and two blind siblings learned Braille at an early age, but Bruce did not learn to read Braille until he was 18. His Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team members had determined early on that he should learn to read using print instead. Sighted readers may be surprised to hear that his early educational experience was the norm at the time. "Braille has become not the method of choice but the method of last resort," wrote the NFB in a fact sheet about its attempts to get Congress to amend the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It successfully did so in 1997. From that day forward, Braille is the starting point: all visually impaired children are supposed to be taught Braille unless all of the child's IEP team members agree it is unnecessary.
After high school, Bruce attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind's nine-month program to help prepare him for college and living alone. He learned Braille and became used to getting around using a cane. After attending Las Positas College in Livermore, in the fall of 2005 he transferred to University of California at Berkeley, where he majored in Multi-Disciplinary American Studies and graduated in 2011.
While an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley, he represented the public as a main named plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against Target Corporation, in which the company was asked to increase accessibility for the blind online. During this suit he learned about a number of issues in legal procedure, including standing and class action certification in federal courts; settlement negotiations; and removal from state to federal courts. He read the legal briefs and court decisions and spoke on the class’ behalf in depositions as well as interviews to the local and national press. He attended hearings where he observed legal arguments and strategies. On this experience, Bruce quote, "was thrilled to serve, observe, and learn in my capacity as the voice of the class".
In 2012, he participated in another case, this one more personal. He testified for an 8-year-old third grader whose New Jersey school district had refused to teach him Braille. The school district asserted that this boy was “a proficient print reader.” While his visual acuity was sufficient, the boy's condition made his eyes tire rapidly. His parents sued the school district in an administrative court under the due process provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). When the parent's lawyers phoned Bruce, he agreed to testify. Bruce reflects on this experience, "Sharing my story was powerful for me, because I was denied the opportunity to learn Braille as a child for similar reasons. I am proud to say that the boy is now a proficient Braille reader".
After these legal experiences, Bruce believed it was important to him to strategize, analyze, design and implement Civil Right law cases. He was accepted to the Juris Doctor program at Syracuse University College of Law. He began his studies in the 2015 fall semester. According to Bruce, "I now get to implement my first year of formal legal training at the Burton Blatt Institute, and I am excited."
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