By Charisma Miller Brooklyn Daily Eagle
When diversity in the workplace is mentioned, physical disabilities are all too often omitted from the conversation. Brooklyn College and Brooklyn Law School graduate Michael Wasser, a tax and bankruptcy litigation attorney with the New York City Law Department, served an integral role in changing the conversation.
On July 26, thanks in part to Wasser’s efforts, the Law Department signed the American Bar Association’s “Disability Diversity in the Legal Profession Pledge for Change.” This signing commemorated the 22nd Anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act, and the Law Department was the first New York City agency to sign this pledge.
Wasser, 38, who is affected with Becker muscular dystrophy, a disease that weakens limbs and damages the heart and respiratory muscles, has used a wheelchair since elementary school. He also uses noninvasive ventilation assistance at night. This has not stopped him from being active within and outside of the Law Department.
Waking up at 5:30 a.m. to commute from his home at the crossroads of Brighton Beach and Coney Island, Wasser shows up to work each day with a “positive attitude coupled with intelligence and determination,” according to Michael Cardozo , the city’s Corporation Counsel. Her has also participates in numerous fundraisers and telethons on behalf of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and advocates for the disabled in the courts.
In 2005, Wasser received the MDA’s National Personal Achievement Award— one of the organization’s highest honors.
Given his accomplishments and achievements, it seemed only fitting for Wasser to provide the ceremonial signature to the Pledge for Change on behalf of the Law Department. Wasser acknowledged the significance of the signing, stating that “Any opportunity to obtain recognition that inclusion is important and that affording people with disabilities the same opportunities as those who are not disabled is a laudable goal, and is very important to me.
“The pledge is even more significant because the impetus for it is not a result of a legally required mandate, but it is based on the realization that the contributions of all, regardless of whether you have a disability, is important to allow us to fully and accurately represent the needs of our clients. That is more important and makes the ability to improve inclusion of people with disabilities an easier task. It is also identical to how I have lived my life and exemplifies my favored methods of advocating for rights.
“Similarly, signing the pledge is a strong indicator to all that people with disabilities are an asset to the practice of law, not because it is required, but because it is logical. However, what must also be recognized is that plenty of work is still required in many areas, including education, employment, transportation, housing, and public accommodation, before people with disabilities have an entirely level playing field.”
Michael Wasser and the American Bar Association pledge to continue to push for the inclusion of person with disabilities in the legal profession. They hope that the NYC Law Department’s decision to sign the Pledge for Change influences other entities, both public and private, to not only sign the pledge, but also to adopt the spirit of diversity and inclusion.