Vision, passion, and commitment to advancing disability rights are on full display each fall during the Annual Awards Dinner and Gala held to support the Western Law Center for Disability Rights (WLCDR). The event is a time to pay special tribute to leaders in the disability community and highlight the Western Law Center’s legal victories during the previous year. Without a doubt, the Awards Dinner and Gala is a distinctive opportunity to showcase the strength and talent within the disability rights community.
Founded in 1975, the Western Law Center for Disability Rights works to implement the civil rights of people with disabilities through education, mediation, training, advocacy and representation. The Center has won numerous awards for its work and is one of the leading disability rights organizations in the nation. Recently, Independent Sector, a national leadership forum, chose WLCDR to receive its 2004 Leadership IS Award. The award was granted for the Center’s commitment to developing leaders in the organization, in the disability rights community and in the southern California community.
WLCDR serves thousands of seniors, adults with disabilities, children with learning disabilities and people with cancer across the nation through five programs: the Civil Rights Litigation Project, the Learning Rights Project, the Disability Mediation Center, the Education and Outreach Program and the Cancer Legal Resource Center.
The WLCDR Annual Awards Dinner and Gala, held this year at the Omni Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, is not only an evening to celebrate the organization’s legal advancements, but also a special toast to businesses, law firms and individuals who commit their time and energy to improving the status of people with disabilities. Evan Handler, of Sex and the City, this year’s Master of Ceremonies, and presenter John C. McGinley, who appears in the popular television show Scrubs, have been avid supporters of disability rights. Director James Eckhouse has also prepared a documentary about the Western Law Center’s work.
The Boeing Company, southern California’s largest employer, has received the Corporate Award for its innovative programs to develop and nurture an atmosphere of awareness, recognition and sensitivity to disability-related challenges, and for cultivating a diverse workforce worldwide. WLCDR’s Corporate Award is a competitive award given to companies with a demonstrated commitment to disability rights. The Boeing Disability Affinity Group at the Long Beach, California, site has been singled out for particular recognition because of its innovative efforts to meet the company’s goal for an all-inclusive workforce.
Positioned within the Global Diversity Division and open to all Boeing employees, the Disability Affinity Group is a dynamic group of 30 individuals who meet each week to design activities and policies that will expand opportunities for people with disabilities. James Edward Harper, a financial core subject matter expert for integrated defense systems at Boeing, has been an active participant in the Disability Affinity Group since its launch. “The goal of the Affinity Group is to benefit both Boeing employees and the company. Employees at all levels of the company participate, and we foster a lot of community involvement as well,” stated Mr. Harper.
A number of Boeing employees within the Disability Affinity Group have been central to the success of WLCDR’s Disability Mentoring Day-Los Angeles. Now in its fourth year, Disability Mentoring Day is an opportunity for students with disabilities to gain valuable first-hand knowledge about exciting careers and the employers with strong diversity policies in the Los Angeles area. As one might imagine, a visit to the Boeing Company is a popular request; last year they hosted 12 students and found placements for approximately 50 others. James Harper, Walter Kuo, Tippi Hall, Beverly Hoskins and many other Boeing employees have championed Disability Mentoring Day within the company and have made it a win-win for the Boeing mentors and the students.
“Having the Boeing Company’s enthusiastic support for Mentoring Day has been important to the success of the program in Los Angeles. Boeing is not only showing students that they have a range of career options, but also modeling for other employers ways to support a talented and inclusive workforce,” stated Eve Hill, WLCDR’s executive director.
Previous winners of the WLCDR Corporate Award include Toyota Motor Sales USA, Princess Cruises, Northrop Grumman and Amgen.
ABILITY Magazine has received the Disability Rights in Entertainment, Arts and Media (DREAM) Award for its positive portrayals of people with disabilities. Created to recognize individuals and businesses in arts and entertainment who address the challenges faced by people with disabilities, the DREAM Award also recognizes those who help shape a more realistic and positive image of people with disabilities. ABILITY has been honored for its broad-ranging coverage of health, disability, and human potential, and also for the commitment of its non-profit arm, ABILITY Awareness, to improving the lives of people with disabilities. The hallmark program of ABILITY Awareness, the ABILITY House, involves a partnership with Habitat for Humanity International to build affordable, accessible homes for families where one or more members has a disability, utilizing volunteers with disabilities in all phases of construction. Previous winners of the DREAM Award include Alice Elliot and Larry Selman, Nickelodeon and John Callahan, and New Mobility magazine.
The prestigious law firm of Latham & Watkins LLP has been recognized for its pro bono work ensuring that children in custody of the juvenile justice system receive the educational services they need to successfully return to their communities. Latham & Watkins employs over 1,500 attorneys in 10 different countries across the globe and is ranked among the top five firms in The American Lawyer’s 2004 A-List.
The firm has a strong commitment to community involvement and pro bono service, as is evident from its work with the Western Law Center. According to Paula Pearlman, litigation director at the Center, “We took on a huge case challenging the San Bernardino County juvenile justice system’s practice of withholding special education services from children in its custody. Latham & Watkins’ attorneys stepped in to help and have made a huge difference. We could not take the important cases we handle without the outstanding work of pro bono counsel of their caliber.”
Maria Hoye, lead attorney on the case, added, “As co-counsel with WLCDR we have pursued a class action against San Bernardino County, its Probation Department and Superintendent of Schools on behalf of children with special needs in the County’s custody. These children with the greatest needs have been deprived of the educational and medical services mandated by federal and state law. We are pursuing a resolution that will result in systemic changes. Our involvement in this significant case has been very rewarding for the Latham & Watkins team, and we are honored to have been selected as WLCDR’s Volunteer Attorneys of the Year.”
Previous Volunteer Attorney honorees have included Kirkland & Ellis, Anna Masters of Winston & Strawn, and David Raizman of Bryan Cave.
The WLCDR Annual Awards Dinner and Gala is a fun-filled evening in which approximately 500 community and business leaders, celebrities, law firms, people with disabilities and others acknowledge the successes of the year and support a worthy organization.
by Eve Hill, JD
Western Law Center for Disability Rights