May 2016 E-News

In This Issue

Letter from the Executive Director

Spring is here, and DRA has a lot to celebrate:

We’re continuing to grow our team of staff and advisors.  I’m happy to introduce you DRA’s new attorneys and the two newest members of our West Coast Advisory Board: Anya Emerson and Steven Ragland.

We’re closer than ever to reaching our Wolinsky Fellowship fundraising goal.  Thanks to events hosted by DRA board members in California and New York, DRA has raised 95% of the funds needed to establish our Wolinsky Fellowship in perpetuity.

We’ve set the date for our annual Eagle Awards luncheon.  Mark your calendars for Wednesday, November 16th and get your sponsorship in early!  All proceeds from this year’s event (until we reach our goal) will support DRA’s Wolinsky Fellowship campaign.

Finally, we’ve achieved three major legal victories: Netflix will make streaming movies and videos available to people who are blind; Uber has agreed to prevent discrimination against blind riders with guide dogs; and Santa Rita Jail will improve accessibility for prisoners and visitors with mobility disabilities.

I couldn’t be more proud of our progress and our team. Thanks for all that you do to make DRA’s civil rights work possible.

Laurence Paradis HeadshotSincerely,

Larry Paradis
Executive Director




Our Growing Team

DRA’s team of talented attorneys continues to grow.  Visit our website to learn more about Meredith Weaver, Jelena Kolic, and Michelle Iorio.  Interested in working for DRA? We’re recruiting fellows.  Click here to learn more and spread the word!

DRA is also pleased to welcome two new members to our West Coast Advisory Board.

Anya Emerson, Staff Attorney, First District Appellate Project

Why were you interested in joining DRA’s Advisory Board?

Portrait-style photo of Anya EmersonI grew up in a family that emphasized the importance of public service, as a career, a calling, and a passion.  I have followed this in my own work, whether as a public education lobbyist in Sacramento, a volunteer English teacher in Ecuador, or in my current indigent defense practice at the non-profit First District Appellate Project.

Joining DRA grants me the opportunity of giving back to the larger community in yet another way, while at the same time allowing me to pursue my long-standing interest in disability, civil rights, and poverty law.  I have previously worked in disability rights as both a Benefits Specialist at an Independent Living Center, and as a law student at the Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center, and I have successfully used accommodations to get my own work done.

Furthering DRA’s work also allows me to honor my late mother, Prudence Poppink, who was instrumental while at the Fair Employment and Housing Commission in shaping California employment and housing law relating to sex, race, and disability harassment and discrimination, as well as in enacting and implementing the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).  In 2000, the California Legislature enacted, in her honor, the Prudence Kay Poppink Act, affirming that the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act provides wider coverage and stronger protections to Californian applicants and employees with disabilities than the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Why do you think DRA’s work is urgent and important? 

As an appellate defense lawyer representing indigent clients, many of whom have disabilities, I find DRA’s work within California criminal justice system, such as Farrell v. Allen, LSPC v. Ahern, and G.F. v. Contra Costa County, particularly exciting in its ability to promote system-wide change. I also see DRA, located in the San Francisco Bay Area/Silicon Valley, to be uniquely positioned to ensure that, as our society becomes more and more technologically driven, those technological advances do not, either literally or figuratively, leave people with disabilities behind, as in DRA’s National Federation of the Blind v. Uber.

What do you hope for DRA’s future and society’s future?

Disabilities, whether obvious or hidden, affect the vast majority of Americans, my own family included.  In my mother’s generation — the golden era of civil rights — there was a great feeling of progress and excitement.  Civil rights lawyers were able to go to work every day expecting to win, and did.  Today, discrimination takes more subtle forms, but is still pervasive.  It takes constant effort and money to ensure that basic civil rights are protected, and that laws already on the books – accessible sidewalks and public transportation being only two such examples — are properly enforced. Even though we’ve passed the ADA, DRA is there to remind us that our work is not yet done.

Any other fun anecdotes or stories you want to share?

I live with my two children and husband in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Steven Ragland, Partner, Keker & Van Nest

Why were you interested in joining DRA’s Advisory Board?

Steve Ragland, his wife, and two children are all on a snowy rocky shore in winter garb, with water and mountains behind them. His daughter stands by their yellow labrador and his son sits in a wheelchair built for rugged terrain.My 9 year old son Logan has a neuromuscular condition called spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), which affects the motor nerve cells in the spinal cord and leads to severe muscle weakness. He is a wheelchair user who got his first powerchair at about 2-1/2 years old. Disability rights are near and dear to my heart because I navigate the world not just looking for curb cutouts, but also thinking about my son’s future and the opportunities he’ll have. Part of the reason I went to law school is to acquire the tools to make people do the right thing when they refuse to do so and injure someone or discriminate against a group of people. I want to use my skills to help ensure dignity and justice for everyone. I have been involved in a community of parents of children with SMA and adults living with SMA for many years, but that does not involve legal work. I wanted to extend my efforts to both reach a broader community and to put my legal training to work.

Why do you think DRA’s work is urgent and important?

I believe the keys to a just society are access, opportunity, dignity, and respect; and it is high time that persons with disabilities are a full part of the civil rights dialog and not just an afterthought—or ignored altogether. On a personal level, I want to be able to take my family to New York City and not worry about how to hail an accessible cab or getting caught at a subway station without an elevator. And my family has been lucky. Many people with disabilities are routinely denied access to education, work, healthcare, or other crucial things, and don’t have the means or ability to speak up and fight yet another battle. Unfortunately, for people with disabilities, prejudice and barriers are still acceptable in ways they are not for other groups who have struggled for civil rights. Prejudices that were rampant when I was a kid don’t even occur to my children, but there is still work to do. DRA’s work and victories bring awareness, dignity, and an important social shift in the perception of people with disabilities for our society as a whole.

What do you hope for DRA’s future and society’s future?

I hope that DRA continues to pioneer new frontiers: that as society expands and our view of equality expands, DRA’s cases will keep pushing the envelope. DRA can lead the disability rights movement and society will follow. I believe that things like universal design will be second nature at some point, and the key is to make that point sooner rather than later.

Any other fun anecdotes or stories you want to share?

A young boy smiles in his wheelchair side by side with a slighty larger than life metal statue of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt also in his wheelchair.In my office, I have a picture that I took at the FDR memorial of my son next to President Roosevelt in his wheelchair, and a small statute of Professor X (of X-Men fame) sitting authoritatively in his powerchair. Those images are so important to me and I want my son to have more leaders and role models who he can look up to and aspire to emulate.


Celebrating Fellowship

In February and April, DRA supporters gathered in San Francisco and New York City to raise awareness and support for the Wolinsky Fellowship.

Four women in dresses stand, two on either side of a table laden with party platters, in front of a window with a view of New York City. A man stands talking in front of a lit fireplace and mantel. People sit on couches of either side of him, some with plates of food and some holding glasses of wine.
New York event hosts Emma Rhodes, Pat Kirkpatrick, Kate Hamilton and Nana Antwi-Ansorge prepare to welcome guests. California event host Dan Mason speaks to an audience including DRA’s current Wolinsky Fellow, Sean Betouliere.


To date, DRA has raised $1.3 million towards our $1.4 million goal.  Want to help us close the gap?  Make your tax deductible gift to support the Wolinsky Fellowship today!

Save the Date: Celebrating 50 Eagles

DRA will host a special Eagle Awards luncheon this November 16th, 2016 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco—celebrating 50 Eagle Awardees since the event’s inception. Mark your calendars now and get your sponsorships in early!  All proceeds from this year’s event (until we reach our goal) will support DRA’s Wolinsky Fellowship campaign.

A silhouette of an eagle.

Impact Report

Making Netflix’s rental libraries accessible to blind subscribers

A laptop with large chunky headphones plugged in.On April 14th, DRA reached a first-of-its-kind settlement with Netflix to make accessible for blind people the movies and videos offered through Netflix video streaming DVD rental subscriptions. Under the agreement, Netflix will provide a new technology called “audio description” for many popular titles in its streaming and disc rental libraries. For more information on the settlement, click here.

Ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities at Santa Rita Jail

On May 2nd, DRA announced a comprehensive settlement agreement to improve accessibility for people with disabilities who are incarcerated at or visiting Santa Rita Jail.  Under the agreement, the County will make major changes to the Jail including significant physical modifications to provide wheelchair accessible cells, showers, restrooms, dining facilities, recreation areas, visiting areas, entrances, and healthcare facilities.  In addition, the County will provide access to a videophone for prisoners with hearing impairments, as well as ASL interpreters when necessary for effective communication.  For more information on the settlement, click here.

Victory for travelers with guide dogs using Uber

12 people outside of the court building, some with guide dogs, some with white sticks.On April 30th, DRA announced an unprecedented settlement with Uber to end discrimination against blind Uber riders who use guide dogs.  Under the settlement, Uber has agreed to take affirmative steps to tell drivers about their obligations to transport riders who are disabled and use service animals.

Uber will require that existing and new drivers expressly confirm that they understand their obligations to transport riders with guide dogs or other service animals. Uber will also implement stricter enforcement policies.  For more information on the settlement, click here.