Professor Laverne Jacobs has built a career dedicated to human rights and equality. Since 2007, she has taught at the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada. She now also serves as the Associate Dean of Research & Graduate Studies and is the founding director of the Law, Disability & Social Change Project
at Windsor Law. Dr. Jacobs’ teaching and research center around disability, human rights and administrative law. Much of her work focuses on how people with disabilities interact with the administrative justice system and explores issues of equality and access to justice within those interactions.
In 2014, Dr. Jacobs was named the Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Canadian Studies. She is returning to Berkeley (virtually) this Thursday, Oct. 29 for a special guest lecture on the challenges faced by persons with disabilities during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic (see details below under “Upcoming Events”). We asked Hildebrand Fellow Tyler Nodine to catch up with Professor Jacobs in advance of her lecture, and learn more about her current work and her thoughts on addressing issues at the intersection of disability rights, equality, and the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Highlights from the interview are below: read the full piece on our website here
What was the focus of your research at Cal?
My research explored how people with disabilities and organizations dedicated to disability issues have consulted with government in order to make their voices heard in the development of laws that affect them. My project was prompted by the development in Canada of accessibility legislation-a new collaborative regulatory approach to addressing disability discrimination through the enactment of standards that began in Ontario in 2005 and that is now being picked up by provincial lawmakers across the country. During my time as the Fulbright Visiting Research Chair, I was interested in how people with disabilities participate in formal and informal consultation processes associated with developing laws that regulate their ability to participate in the community, as this was a central aspect of Canada’s new regulatory approach.
How did you choose Berkeley as the site of your research?
I was specifically interested in Berkeley – both the university and the city – because of its well-known, active community of disability rights scholars, lawyers and activists. As a person with a disability myself and someone who identifies as a member of the disability community, I was also excited to be in Berkeley. Moreover, I loved the idea of being affiliated with Canadian Studies at Cal because I wanted to maintain a connection with scholars and others who had an interest in what was taking place in Canada. Although my work had a comparative aspect, it was largely about the Canadian phenomenon.
One of my most memorable moments came from organizing a conference at Berkeley Law, which was generously supported by Canadian Studies, called Exploring Law, Disability and the Challenge of Equality in Canada and the United States. This was a wonderful opportunity to bring together colleagues from both Canada and the US to discuss disability and equality law theory and practice.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic influenced your research?
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant influence on my current research and teaching. I believe that in times of social uncertainty, scholars have a heightened obligation to serve the public by using their research and expertise to ensure that social issues are addressed in a way that brings in the considerations of everyone in society. COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on many vulnerable and marginalized populations, including people with disabilities. Sometimes the issues faced by marginalized groups are disregarded or even misunderstood and I think that as a scholar and a law professor, I have a responsibility to contribute to public debates by helping to clarify the issues and provide knowledge where I can.
What are the most pressing issues affecting the disability community during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how can we address these?
When it comes to people with disabilities, equality rights and the COVID-19 pandemic, two of the most important issues are access to appropriate healthcare and income insecurity. Hospital and other healthcare policies often place people with disabilities quite low on the list of who will receive care if triage is required because of a shortage of staff or supplies. People with disabilities are generally subject to the stigmatizing idea that the quality of their lives makes their lives not worth living. This stigma has been systemically embedded in triage protocols during the COVID-19 crisis. However, questions about who should live or die are much broader than utilitarian calculations; they should be subject to a human rights analysis. From a human rights approach, people with disabilities should have access to healthcare in a manner that is equal to everyone else. Human rights approaches can be found in international law, but also in domestic laws such as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which guarantees equality to people with disabilities.
Income insecurity is another major issue that brings to light the systemic social inequalities that people with disabilities experience daily and which have been exacerbated during COVID-19. If someone is unable to work due to disability, the amount of support that they receive is often not enough to keep them going during the pandemic, where the cost of living has risen significantly.
In terms of what we can do to address these issues, I think that it’s important to join voices with people with disabilities who are expressing concern. I think it’s crucial to be aware of the issues but to be led by the disability community in terms of ways to resolve them. And as scholars, I think it’s important to assist through research, and by facilitating discussions that raise awareness and change.
To learn more about Professor Jacob’s current research, sign up for her Oct. 29 lecture, “COVID-19 and Global Inequalities”. Learn more under “Upcoming Events”.