2020 DDRB Lawyers Legal Scholarship Winner Announcement

We are excited to announce this year’s DDRB Lawyers Legal Scholarship winner. This award, worth $1500, is given to one outstanding law student who meets the following criteria: submits a compelling short essay on their legal career aspirations, has a good academic status, involved in school-related and community activities, along with other achievement standards. We would like to thank all of those who took the time to apply. After a thorough review of all of the candidates, we are pleased to announce that this year’s scholarship winner is…

Emma O’Toole

University of Virginia School of Law

Emma Ashe O'Toole

Congratulations Emma!

Before attending the University of Virginia School of Law, Emma received a B.A. Degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago. While in Chicago she served as the Debate Society Vice President, as well as a volunteer tutor for inner-city ESL high school students.

She also interned with The New York Environmental Law and Justice Initiative, and currently is a pro bono volunteer at the Marine Corps University, Command and Staff College. In her free time, she enjoys long-distance running, “fusion” baking, and science fiction.

DDRB Lawyers would like to congratulate you Emma and wish you the best of luck as you continue your legal education at the University of Virginia.

During the application process, Emma was required to write and submit an essay describing what she hopes to achieve during her legal career. She has agreed to have us publish her essay, which we invite you to read below:

“Every parent wants the best education for their children. For the parents of autistic
children, this desire is strengthened, as they want to ensure their child has equal access to
education. Unfortunately, navigating the complex and often inaccessible space of education for
children with disabilities poses a huge cost for parents.

Growing up, I saw this fight in action. My brother was diagnosed with autism at a young
age, but was zoned for a school with little assistance for disabled children. He was expected to
sink or swim in a classroom without accommodations for his specific needs. It was only when
my mother sought out an attorney that she found he was entitled to more: an aid to help him, or a
subsidy to allow my parents to pay for a specialized school. With the help of this lawyer, my
parents successfully appealed in court to get the additional assistance he needed.

While we are incredibly grateful for the phenomenal work this attorney did, the problem
exceeds just this individual instance. The cost of accessing this need is prohibitively high. When
the costs of accessing education that students with disabilities are entitled to are this high, it
stops children who are most in need of this assistance from obtaining it.

My interest in fighting for children with disabilities was furthered when I began tutoring
students in Chicago while attending University. Almost all of the students were from low
income families. Many spoke English as a second language, and their parents did not speak
English at all. Thus, children with disabilities were underdiagnosed, or diagnosed and given no
further assistance to help them thrive. Students with dyslexia spoke of their desire to drop out;
students with autism spectrum disorder were expected to succeed in classrooms without
accommodation. These parents loved their children, and wanted the best for them, but lacked a
way to advocate for them. Thanks to the effort of my parents and their attorney, my brother was
able to access education and even to complete college. This should be the standard, not the
exception. It is this gap in opportunities that made me determined to pursue a legal career, and
which I hope to address as a legal advocate for children.

One of the reasons I was most excited to enroll in the University of Virginia School of
Law this fall was the chance to involve myself in disability advocacy, including legislative
guidelines that require both assistance for children with disabilities and a pathway for their
parents to access this assistance. Virginia Law has a Child Advocacy Clinic which works to
further the rights of children through education reform. I plan to join this clinic in my third year,
which would give me the chance to gain valuable experience in advocating for children during
law school, working on cases of children impacted by the inaccessibility of the education
system.

Receiving the generous DDRB Lawyers Legal Scholarship would allow me to devote
my early career to this cause, giving me the rare opportunity to advocate for children with
disabilities throughout my career and to help effect change to help families across America.
This scholarship would give me the opportunity to work wholeheartedly with the
aforementioned clinic, to seek lower paying or unpaid summer positions advocating for
students, and to start my career off in an advocacy role. I believe strongly in paying forward the
belief and generosity others afford to me, and would strive to do so with this scholarship, using
DDRB’s generosity to advocate for voiceless children and families and to help provide the
pathway to education they deserve.

Emma O’Toole