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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Alumnus Honored by White House as Champion of Change

Andrew Phillips '10: "It’s a real privilege to work on issues that I care deeply about -- as a deaf person and somebody who has many friends in the disability community."
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Andrew Phillips '10, Policy Counsel at National Association of the Deaf, in Washington, D.C.

Andrew Phillips ‘10, Policy Counsel for the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), was honored by the White House as a “Champion of Change.” In a ceremony celebrating the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Phillips was one of eight Americans lauded for the advocacy efforts, innovative projects, and their “embodiment of the spirit of ADA.”

Phillips joined NAD as Policy Counsel in 2011. Deaf since birth, he graduated from Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. with a degree in Government. In this Google Chat interview, Phillips credits his parents and his alma mater with training him to be an effective advocate for himself and others.

Q: When did the idea of law school enter the picture for you?

A: Growing up I was always interested in the law, whether it was reading John Grisham or watching legal TV shows. I think I was drawn to the law because it is a system for determining right from wrong, and we apply these rules to everyday situations.

Growing up, whenever my family bought a new game for us to play, I was often the first one reading the rulebook to try to best understand how to play. But the idea of us all living by a set of rules and how those rules are interpreted fascinated me.

I also grew up with parents who had to constantly advocate for my education to make sure I got the accommodations that I needed. It wasn’t easy for them, but with the help of lawyers, supporters, allies, friends and their own advocacy, we succeeded.

Q: How did that play out in law school?

A: In law school I had two interpreters in every class. They worked together, and took turns interpreting. I was fortunate that UC Hastings was willing to hire very skilled interpreters, and made it so that I could use the same pool of interpreters for my full three years. UC Hastings did an amazing job in making my education fully accessible. The administration and the staff in the Disability Resource Program really wanted me to have the tools necessary to succeed. I had friends at other schools who had to battle their schools to get decent interpreters and accommodations. My experience at UC Hastings was the opposite, and am very thankful. I should add that the LEOP (Legal Education Opportunity Program) was very helpful in getting me acclimatized to law school.

Q: So you were subject to the Socratic method?

A: I was called on just as often as my peers.

Q: That must have helped you with moot court.

A: It did. I was recognized as “Best Oral Advocate” in my Moot Court class, where I argued on behalf of the District of Columbia in D.C. v. Heller.

Q: What is your role as policy counsel at NAD?

A: I work with various federal agencies on rulemakings related to disability access, including the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Transportation. In 2010, Congress passed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), which requires Internet-based communications and video to be more accessible for Americans with disabilities. We have been very busy working on several CVAA – related rulemakings before the FCC. I’m also responsible for the NAD’s Congressional relations. In May, I testified before the Senate, about the ADA and access to entertainment technologies. I was nervous, but it was a dream come true. I’m a former Senate intern, so I had been to many hearings, and always hoped that one day I would have the opportunity to testify.

Q: What does it mean to you to be a successful attorney and working directly on behalf of the disabled, or others with access issues in our society?

A: I’m lucky to have a job that I enjoy very much. It’s a real privilege to work on issues that I care deeply about – as a deaf person and somebody who has many friends in the disability community.

Read more about Phillips and other "Champions of Change" honored by the White House here

Phillips' personal account, on his White House blog entry, is here.

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