An intern at the Bazelon center helps protect people with disabilities

As an intern in strategic communication, Thomas Lichtenberg ’23 supported
the efforts of Center Bazelon in planning and drafting many of its
media messages and strategies.

A student from Kalamazoo College did an internship with an organization that protects people with disabilities this term.

Thomas Lichtenberg ’23 —a major in political science and philosophy and a minor in mathematics — worked in Washington, DC, for the Judge David A. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, which helps lawyers and others who work to protect legal rights of people with mental disabilities. In some cases, the center will also represent in court people facing discrimination or denial of necessary services.

Lichtenberg got this opportunity thanks to the Washington Center, a group that brings together students and various nonprofits in the nation’s capital. As a strategic communications intern, he supported the efforts of the Bazelon Center by planning and writing many of its social media posts and strategies. Its plans, which would be approved by a political or legal director, touted events such as a virtual awards ceremony marking the center’s 49th year. This event featured prominent figures such as singer John Legend and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He also attended a virtual infrastructure briefing with US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and met well-known people separately, although in some cases only virtually.

“I attended a congressional briefing,” he said. “I went to the Supreme Court once and Representative Ilhan Omar was talking about court reform. I also met a lot of presenters. We have a pretty strong relationship with PBS and I met Judy Woodruff and a few other PBS reporters at an afterparty for our awards show.

Another event he covered on social media was a live YouTube discussion regarding the use of student resource officers in schools and how some officers mistreated students of color and students with disabilities. . In a social campaign, however, Center Bazelon more directly targeted advertising regarding an active case, CVS Pharmacy Inc. v. Doe, in cooperation with other disability and civil rights groups.

“At the end of my tenure, we actually won this case in the Supreme Court and social media was key there,” Lichtenberg said. “It involved CVS and a group of people living with HIV who argued that they were receiving different treatment depending on their condition. CVS was trying to say that if it is unintentional discrimination, then section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act does not apply.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act 1973 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.

“Such a decision would have been catastrophic for the rights of people with disabilities,” said Lichtenberg. “Essentially, if that were in place, the person who wouldn’t have full use of their legs, for example, would have no legal recourse if someone constructed a building that could only be accessed by stairs. “Our social media campaign prompted CVS to withdraw the case and commit to finding a solution that respects the rights of people with disabilities, which is quite unprecedented for such a large company.”

Lichtenberg is returning to the K campus for the winter, where he served last spring as a teaching assistant for a course in Logic and Philosophy of Reasoning that includes a requirement for independent study. For this, he wanted to understand how someone could codify a version of the Star Trek Core Directive, a guiding principle that prohibits members of Starfleet from interfering with the natural development of alien civilizations while protecting civilizations unprepared from receiving. cutting-edge technologies, knowledge and values ​​before they’re ready for it. For now, however, he will reflect on an overwhelmingly positive experience in Washington, DC.

“I find it incredible that there are only about seven people working for the Bazelon Center,” Lichtenberg said. “It’s amazing that they are able to handle the cases they are dealing with. It has been a real honor to work for them and I am delighted to apply what I have learned to my classes in a new context.

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