Georgetown Law School students Hugh McAdorey and Eileen Brogan discuss their experiences as interns with Autism Speaks.Hugh:
Last fall, I discovered that I had Asperger’s Syndrome. Beyond my personal experience, however, I knew little about autism spectrum disorders and knew next to nothing about those more severely affected by autism.
When I saw that Autism Speaks was recruiting summer interns, I figured it would be an excellent opportunity for me both professionally and personally. It would allow me to explore my interest in government while it would teach me about the experiences of other people on the autism spectrum, particularly those who face far more challenges than I.
I came to law school last year with an eye toward disability advocacy. In my years before law school I had spent time on Capitol Hill and had more recently been working in inclusive education and therapy-based special education. My hope this summer was to explore the possibilities of a legal career in developmental disability advocacy.
What We Did
Our summer at Autism Speaks encompassed policy, research, advocacy, coalition building, and grassroots training. The breadth of experiences we were given this summer helped illustrate for both of us just how diverse and embracing a legal career can be.
Our first day at Autism Speaks included a meeting on Autism CARES, legislation that we were fortunate enough to see pass both the House and Senate and be signed into law by the President. Aside from direct advocacy for passage of this bill on the Hill, we were able to see the mobilization efforts within the autism community to garner support, as well as the complex relationship-building that went on behind the scenes to nurture an effective coalition. We experienced the legislative process first hand, attending the bill’s subcommittee and committee markups as well as sitting in the House gallery the day the bill passed the House . . . although unfortunately we were pulled away to other commitments before the approval!
We were also fortunate enough to see the long labor of love that is the ABLE Act finally move out of committee and onto the House floor. This legislation gave us a quick crash course in tax law, as well as a ground floor look at the partnership an organization like Autism Speaks has with its champions in Congress and the tireless cooperation required to achieve a successful and achievable bill. We also learned about TRICARE and observed Autism Speaks’ successful efforts to have ABA therapy covered for military families who require it.
We both worked on research projects on policy objectives moving forward. Hugh helped to draft a comment to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on how the federal government could be a model employer of people with disabilities. His research pointed to successful strategies employed by certain private sector companies, including SAP, a software corporation, and suggested that the government learn from and incorporate such strategies when developing plans to hire people with autism. Later, Hugh had the opportunity to meet Jose Velasco from SAP when he testified at a congressional hearing. Eileen worked on a memo describing possible approaches to expanding ABA as a medical benefit.
Near the internships’ end, both of us had the knowledge and confidence to lead groups of college students from Alpha Xi Delta to meet with their representatives on Capitol Hill. It was highly rewarding to help them advocate to those who are elected to serve them.
What We Took Away
We are glad that we interned with Autism Speaks as it gave us the opportunity to see the legislative process in action while enriching us with knowledge about legal issues relating to autism and other disabilities. Working at Autism Speaks prepared us to become effective lawyers and reminded us that the law should be a tool for serving one another’s needs.