In October, Kristin Fleschner ’14 returned to the Harvard Law campus to share with current students her work in disability rights and her experiences as a blind lawyer. Her talk was followed by a showing of “Blind Ambition,” a documentary that she produced as a 2L with the support of the Dean of Students Office and the Harvard Law Documentary Studio.
Fleschner described her “dream of a world where we can open the dictionary and the word ‘disabled’ no longer exists.” For Fleschner, universal design, a framework that advocates for the creation of accessible environments where fewer accommodations are needed, is the key to making her vision of equality a reality.
She recalled the “great support” she received as a student at HLS, but noted that students at other institutions may not benefit from the same resources and attitudes, particularly Harvard’s recognition that students with disabilities “bring a unique perspective to the classroom.” Challenges remain for individuals with disabilities in the workforce, she said, citing higher unemployment and poverty rates than among the general population.
According to Fleschner, “we have the laws” to support individuals with disabilities and mandate accessibility. Education and cultural change present the next challenges and are the focus, she says, of many advocates such as herself. “Blind Ambition” was one of Flescher’s early advocacy projects. Through the documentary, she intended to show others that adversities can become “opportunities to grow and adapt well.” The film follows Fleschner and other students with visual impairments through a typical day of attending classes, studying, and engaging faculty and peers. In it, she says of the disability community, “Our world is different. But our world is our world. It’s beautiful and it’s life.”
Fleschner also stressed the power of social media, (including a Facebook page that shares her guide dog Zoe’s daily work), to increase public awareness and understanding of what life is like for individuals with disabilities.
She told the HLS audience, “I hope that you see hope and resilience when you meet people with disabilities. For too long, our community has been silenced or unheard.” She left students with this message: “You don’t need eyes to see, you need a vision.”
Fleschner is employed as a Foreign Affairs Officer for the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. While at HLS, she successfully completed the 2014 Boston Marathon as a charity runner for Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (see related story). She graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2004 with a B.A. and B.S. in anthropology and human and organizational development.
The talk and screening, which took place during National Disability Employment Awareness Month, were sponsored by the Dean of Students Office and Supero, a student organization dedicated to supporting the academic, personal, and professional careers of students who are from low-income backgrounds, are first-generation college graduates, or have a disability.