As an advocate for people with disabilities, Angela Dittrich has always understood one basic truth: there is strength in numbers.
That’s why the 3L student and active leader with the Disability Collective of Osgoode (DisCO) is actively campaigning to create the first national organization representing law students with disabilities. The Canadian Coalition for Law Students with Disabilities (CCLSD) has so far brought together students from all 23 law schools across Canada.
“My disability advocacy work has been the most challenging and fulfilling work I have done during my law school career,” she said. “While some progress has been made, there is still a long way to go to tackle the many challenges and inequities that disabled law students and lawyers continue to face across the country.”
Dittrich, a native of Hamilton, Ont., has been diagnosed as neurodivergent and has had a variety of neurological, chronic pain, cardiac and connective tissue disorders since early childhood.
Being a disabled law student poses numerous challenges and barriers, she said. But the most frustrating challenge, she noted, is that many of these barriers could easily be eliminated through the development of equitable policies, more thoughtful planning approaches and a system that prioritizes the creation of a more diverse, inclusive profession.
In recognition of her work to improve accessibility to legal education and her academic excellence, Dittrich was awarded in July a Legal Leaders for Diversity Trust Fund Scholarship. The fund was established in 2015 to promote equal access and diversity in law schools and was created through donations from general counsel and law firm managing partners from across Canada.
During her third year in the combined Juris Doctor-Master in Environmental Studies program, Dittrich will serve as co-president of DisCO. She said she plans to build on the organization’s work in creating an important sense of community and engaging with the law school’s administration to implement key equitable policy measures.
But it was in her role as DisCO’s outreach coordinator last year that Dittrich said she saw the need for a national organization to advocate for law students with disabilities. The idea took shape during discussions with disability advocates from local law schools about advocacy strategies for COVID-related accommodations.
“I realized that our advocacy efforts would be amplified if we were working collectively and began to build this network alongside other disability advocates at Canadian law schools,” she said. “The coalition is still in its early stages of formation, and I hope for it to be fully established within the Fall 2023 term.”