Q&A with 1L Jovan Ruvalcaba, New President of National Association of Law Students with Disabilities

Jovan RuvalcabaJovan Ruvalcaba is only in his first year of law school, but he is already leaving his mark. The Arizona Law 1L was recently elected president of the National Association of Law Students with Disabilities (NALSWD). Ruvalcaba, who was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at birth, also launched the Disability Law Club at Arizona Law. Before entering law school, he was a Fulbright Scholar, teaching English and researching accessibility issues at the Federal University of Paraná in Brazil. Ruvalcaba, who is fluent in four languages, also studied international and comparative law at the Paris Institute of Political Studies through the Gilman Scholarship Program. 

We caught up with Ruvalcaba to learn more about his work.

What are your responsibilities as president of the NALSWD?
I serve as the main contact between the American Bar Association’s Commission on Disability Rights and any other group or organization working to advance disability advocacy projects, especially those seeking to increase access and support of students and professionals with disabilities in the legal profession. One of NALSWD’s ongoing projects includes providing information to incoming law students with disabilities on how to request LSAT testing accommodations as well as how to obtain appropriate law school accommodations once they have been admitted into law school.

What do you hope to accomplish during your term?  
First, I hope to work together with private sector employers, government agencies, and law schools across the country to offer more scholarship and internship opportunities to people with disabilities. I want to shift the recruitment conversation beyond the idea of having more inclusive environments and talk about how people with disabilities can truly bring a wealth of experience, resourcefulness and knowledge into the workplace.  

Secondly, I would like for NALSWD to finally obtain its 501 C-3 status, which has been on NALSWD’s goal list inception in 2007. I believe the advancement of the organization’s projects is greatly restricted by not having a non-profit status. Lastly, I want to strengthen the network between law students and legal professionals with disabilities around the country so that people with disabilities wanting to become lawyers can have access to mentors in and out of law school.

Why did you decide to go to law school?
Service to others and service to country is a guiding principle in my life, and I have always found that understanding the law is a fundamental piece to fulfilling that mission. Having a JD gives you the flexibility and independence to be an agent for change wherever you are.   

Why did you choose Arizona Law?
I am a native Tucsonan, and while I will say that Arizona’s resident tuition got my attention, it was the college’s collegial atmosphere that convinced me to stay. I must also add that as a student with disabilities, the nationally recognized Disability Resource Center here at the University of Arizona, together with the incredible support of faculty and the dean of students, made staying home an easy choice.    

Can you tell us about the Disability Law Club that you recently started?
My hope is that it will become a space where everyone can learn and discuss disability issues openly. I also hope it becomes a support group for students with visible and invisible disabilities, who might otherwise be discouraged to talk about their struggles in an environment as competitive and alienating as law school is at times. Having discussed the club’s purpose with my classmates, we have decided that instead of focusing solely on disability law through the eyes of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we want the club to take on disability advocacy and awareness projects for the law school at large. We would like to have disability rights attorneys give presentations on pressing issues, but we would also like to partner with community organizations that serve the handicapped and see how we can use our legal training and resources to increase accessibility around campus and the Tucson community. It is important to remember that an understanding of disability is as important for lawyers who practice civil rights law as it is for those who practice tort law, healthcare law, administrative law, tax law, employment law, etc. 

What is something that most people don’t know about disability rights?
People tend to forget that disability is an equal-opportunity transgressor. You can be born with a disability or acquire it at any point in your lifetime. We should not wait for disability to affect us personally to work on ways to make the spaces and places we live in more accessible and inclusive for everyone. If you catch yourself thinking of a person with a disability, do not focus on how inspirational they are for living with limitations; instead think of one thing that if different would make their life easier. Advocate for that change, and you will have become an activist.