Empowering Equality: Inside the JJLS Equal Justice America Disability Rights Clinic, Where Students Drive Change

December 3, 2023 Silvana Martinaj & Gabriella Pereira

In an effort to foster community engagement and provide free legal resources to seniors, Haub Law’s John Jay Legal Services Equal Justice America Disability Rights Clinic recently participated in the Livable Communities Senior Village Fair, an event dedicated to the well-being and empowerment of our elder citizens. The Livable Communities Senior Village Fair is a community wide event that brings together older adults, their families, and local organizations. This event served as a platform for seniors to connect, learn, and access important resources that can significantly impact their quality of life. These fairs offer a wide array of services and resources, ranging from health screenings and wellness seminars to legal advice and social activities. The goal is to empower seniors with the knowledge and tools they need to lead fulfilling and independent lives.

One of the crucial services that the Clinic offered was the provision of Healthcare Proxy forms, allowing individuals to appoint trusted agents to make their healthcare decisions and ensure their wishes are respected in times of need. A Healthcare Proxy, also known as a Medical Power of Attorney, is a legal document that allows an individual (the "principal") to appoint a trusted person (the "agent" or "proxy") to make healthcare decisions on their behalf in the event they become incapacitated or unable to communicate their wishes. This document ensures that the individual's preferences regarding medical treatment, end-of-life care, and other health-related matters are respected.

At the Livable Communities Senior Village Fair, the Clinic recognized the importance of empowering seniors to take control of their healthcare decisions. Many seniors may not have considered or signed a Healthcare Proxy, often thinking that family members will automatically have the authority to make medical decisions on their behalf. However, without a legally designated proxy, important healthcare decisions may be made by individuals who may not be aware of the senior's specific wishes. The students on the Clinic team provided informative sessions on the significance of Healthcare Proxies, explaining the legal implications and benefits of having one in place. Student team members walked attendees through the process of selecting a trusted agent and discussed common concerns and considerations when completing the form.


Haub Law clinic participants noted that the response from attendees was overwhelmingly positive with many seniors expressing relief and gratitude for having the opportunity to address this important aspect of their healthcare planning. “Seniors left the fair with a tangible tool that could provide peace of mind to both them and their loved ones,” said Gabriella Pereira ’24. “Furthermore, families of the seniors were appreciative of the guidance provided, recognizing the importance of clear healthcare directives in ensuring their loved ones' wishes are respected and followed.”

Haub Law clinic students described the Livable Communities Senior Village Fair as an enriching experience for all involved. “By offering Health Care Proxy forms and educating seniors on their significance, the Equal Justice America Disability Rights Clinic took a significant step towards empowering older adults to make informed decisions about their healthcare,” said Patricia Angley, Director of Equal Justice America Disability Rights Clinic. “This event serves as a reminder of the positive impact that legal support and community engagement can have on the lives of seniors, helping them to lead healthier, happier, and more fulfilling lives.”

A component of the Equal Justice America Disability Rights Clinic is a seminar class. Throughout the fall semester, several visitors have spoken as part of the seminar class. These speakers have educated the student attorneys on several topics and issues that affect the elderly and disabled population. The first speakers were Roberta Goodman Esq., from the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University’s Women’s Justice Center and Stefanie DeNise, Esq., law clerk to Administrative Judge Anne. E. Minihan and adjunct law professor. “Both speakers discussed the ways that advancements in technology can be used to target the elderly, noting that the growing number of scam calls have advanced, and scammers continue to target the elderly and vulnerable members of our society,” said Silvana Martinaj ’25. “The speakers stressed the importance of educating the vulnerable people in your life about these scams and shared their efforts in helping those who have fallen victim to them.”

Later in the semester, David Leven, Esq., spoke in the seminar class about the importance of advance care planning, health care proxies, and choosing a healthcare agent. He also spoke about Medical Aid in Dying (MAID), currently proposed legislation in New York.  Mr. Leven began with a discussion about how for most of our history, dying was typically a brief process, and how it is only in more recent history that death for many individuals has come only after a long medical struggle with an incurable condition. He discussed some of the arguments for and against MAID, concerns about abuse and coercion within vulnerable populations, and the importance of individual autonomy when making healthcare decisions. His lecture concluded with an informative discussion about the requirements in the ten states which do authorize MAID or similar statutes, and current pending legislation efforts in New York.

The Equal Justice America Disability Rights Clinic provides an informative and demonstrative environment for students to foster a commitment to both learning and service. As the student attorneys navigate the intricacies of emerging legal issues, they not only enhance their own understanding but also contribute meaningfully to the community by providing valuable assistance to those in need. Through this dual pursuit of education and advocacy, the Equal Justice America Disability Rights Clinic stands as a symbol of empowerment, fostering a generation of lawyers who not only grasp the complexities of the law but are also driven by a profound sense of social responsibility. The Clinic exemplifies the transformative potential of legal education in creating a more just and equitable society.


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