Accessibility Services • Et. Seq: The Harvard Law School Library Blog

Getting to Ellen: A Trial Lawyer’s Gender Transition and the Lessons of Vulnerability and Self-Compassion

Several colleagues from the library were among the Harvard Law School staff members who attended a talk this morning given by Ellen (Ellie) Krug, who transitioned from male to female while working as a trial lawyer and heading a law firm in Iowa in 2009.  Today, Ellie travels around the country to talk to audiences about coming out as a transgender person, and discusses the roles that vulnerability, authenticity, and compassion play in accepting yourself and others.

She opened, appropriately, by reminding us that “we’re all working to survive the human condition.”  She followed by making it especially clear that she was not there to speak about or for all trans/non-binary people.

Then, she began the educational part of the program by describing the three camps in the transgender world:

  • Gender Correctors:
    People who live their life presenting according to their birth gender, until they decide that they have had enough of that life and need to correct.
  • Trans Kids and Trans Youth:
    Children and young people who identify and declare early that they are not their assigned gender.  Because of the expansion of the internet, this group has grown much larger in the last 20-25 years, as they and their families can more readily research what this means and connect with others who are also going through the same experience.
  • People Not Identifying As Male or Female: These people may be called gender non-binary, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, genderfluid, or something else.

Tip: Visit http://www.transstudent.org/definitions/ for a comprehensive list of definitions of LGBTQ+ terms.

During the next part of her talk, she discussed three concepts that are critical to transgender people and their experience.

  • Gender Identity:
    This is how you perceive your gender according to your brain.  It is private, secret, and can be accompanied by fear.  Not only can people facing gender identity issues be afraid of losing everything they have built and would build by staying in their birth gender, but also of being being marginalized and ending up alone.  Stating that you do not identify with the gender you were assigned at birth can cause confusion to people who are “cisgender” (someone who identifies as the gender to which they were assigned when they were born).
  • Gender Expression:
    This how how you express your gender in public.  It is a means by which people, by wearing certain clothes and accessories and adopting certain physical characteristics, make an effort to “grab authenticity.”
  • Transitioning Genders:
    For some (but not all) people, this is the final stage in the path toward living with gender authenticity.  It can involve elements that are social (changing your name, changing your government identity documents, taking hormones) and surgical.  Note that not everyone chooses to have surgery.  It is expensive ($30-35,000) and takes a long time; also, in some places, there is a lack of access to health care professionals who can perform it.

Following a brief discussion of her own experience, Ellie discussed the concept of choice.  She made it very clear that transitioning from male to female was more than just a choice for her: it was an issue of survival because identifying as a woman was such a fundamental part of her core identity.  She also mentioned that she is much happier, relaxed, and more comfortable with herself now, and that people who have known her for a long time tell her that she is a much better person as a woman than she was as a man.

Finally, Ellie advised us about how we, as members of the law school community, can be more welcoming to trans and gender non-conforming people.  At the top of the list?  PRONOUNS.  Using someone’s preferred pronoun shows that you see them as a human being.  If you make a mistake, apologize and move on.  Ellie also listed a number of things that trans people should not be asked to do: educate non-trans people about trans issues, be a spokesperson for the trans community, or discuss their own experience with surgery or hormones.  Finally, when it comes to bathrooms, encourage them to use the bathroom of their choice.

Tip: To view a map of gender-inclusive bathrooms on the Harvard Law School campus, visit https://hls.harvard.edu/content/uploads/2018/10/HLS-Map-Gender-Inclusive-Bathrooms.pdf.  

At the end of her talk, Ellie reminded us of three important points to remember when working with any law students, but especially trans students:

  • “Human authenticity won’t leave you alone until you listen.”
  • Many people, especially in a law school environment, feel that they are not good enough or a failure.
  • It is important to have compassion, for both your students and yourself.

Tip: Regarding point #2, this is often referred to as “impostor syndrome.” I attended and wrote a blog post about an excellent program on impostor syndrome at the American Association of Law Libraries annual meeting in 2018.

Obviously a blog post cannot do justice to what a powerful speaker and human being Ellie is.  My hope in writing this is that people take away the educational points that we learned from her, and feel encouraged to attend one of her talks themselves.  To learn more about Ellie and her work, visit https://elliekrug.com/.

You can also explore the Harvard Library collections’ works on this topic by searching the HOLLIS library catalog using these pre-populated searches:

Welcome LL.M. Students!

Welcome to the nearly 200 LL.M. students who will be attending Harvard Law School this academic year!

Please visit the law library’s research services homepage to learn about all of the services the library’s research services team offers to the Harvard Law School community.

We are providing special library tours for LL.M. students over the next two weeks, and you can sign up for a tour on this page as well (under Upcoming Events).

Highlighting New Comparative Law Books in the Law Library’s Collection

Research librarians here in the law library spend a lot of time talking to LL.M. students about their paper topics every year.  Because so many students decide to write their LL.M. papers on comparative law topics, I like to write posts for our library blog about comparative law titles that I find in our collection that might be of interest to them.

In this post, I am highlighting one of our newest books on comparative company law.

International Handbook on Shareholders’ Agreements: Regulation, Practice, and Comparative Analysis
Editors: Sebastian Mock, Kristian Csach, and Bohnmil Havel
Published by DeGruyter, 2018
ISBN 9783110501568
View this book’s record in Harvard’s HOLLIS library catalog

According to the editors of this volume, shareholder agreements are “an integral part of company law and especially its legal practice.”  They are “traditionally dominated by contract law and not by company law”; however, it is sometimes the case that contract law lacks the depth to provide sufficient legal regulation of what can be complex legal situations and relationships, especially “in the case of cross-border shareholders’ agreements including shareholders from several jurisdictions.”

This volume attempts to fill that gap.  It begins with introductory chapters covering the differences between contract law and corporate law when it comes to shareholders’ agreements, the impact of shareholders’ agreements on how a company is managed, and as issues related to conflict of laws (private international law), corporate insolvency, and competition law.

The bulk of the book, however, is dedicated to reports on the relevant legal framework for shareholders’ agreements in the following jurisdictions: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Czech Republic, England/Wales, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United States.  Some of these country reports include English-language excerpts of applicable statutory provisions.

Harvard Library Collection

This book is part of the DeGruyter Handbook series.  Almost all of the other titles in this series that are in the Harvard Library collection are in German (DeGruyter is a German publishing company), and cover legal topics.

However, Harvard does have one other English-language title from this series.  It is held by the Widener Library, Harvard’s flagship library.  All LL.M. students have access and borrowing privileges at Widener, along with the other libraries at Harvard.

This other book actually has nothing to do with law at all:

Sign Languages of the World: A Comparative Handbook
Edited by Julie Bakken Jepsen, Goedele De Clerck, Sam Lutalo-Kiingi, William B. McGregor
Published by De Gruyter, 2015
ISBN 9781614517962
View this book’s record in Harvard’s HOLLIS library catalog

I am a member of the law library’s Accessibility Design team, so one of my interests is learning more about how we can make the library accessible and accommodating to people with all kinds of disabilities.  So I am actually really interested in having a look at this book sometime!

Using HeinOnline for Accessing Legal Journals

I am curious to learn more about how the various sign languages around the world have developed their legal terminology throughout history.  In fact, just thinking about that led me to wonder about how issues related to deafness have been explored in the legal literature.

One of the best options for this kind of research is our  HeinOnline subscription legal database.  HeinOnline contains a very comprehensive collections of U.S. and foreign legal journals.  I find this database to be an invaluable part of any legal research project that I am working on.

So I decided to try a proximity search in HeinOnline for articles about sign language and legal terms.  Here is the search query I used:

“sign language legal terms”~50

This search query uses HeinOnline’s unique syntax for finding those four words within 50 words of each other.

When I did that search and limited the search results to articles from HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library, I got 77 results, covering various topics such as professional challenges faced by deaf lawyers, the representation of deaf clients in legal matters, the fitness of deaf defendants for trial, accommodating law faculty with disabilities, and more.

Perhaps one day an LL.M. student will write on deafness and law as well.  Whatever our newest LL.M.s decide to write about this year, the law library’s research services team is eager to help them navigate our resources and research their papers.

We’re looking forward to seeing you in the law library!

Learning about Accessibility for Blind and Visually-Impaired Users (Accessibility Speaker Series #3)

On July 19, the HLS Accessibility Design team hosted a wonderful pair of speakers for a talk about accessibility for blind and visually-impaired library users. We were thrilled to welcome two colleagues from the library at the Perkins School for the Blind: Executive Director Kim Charlson, and Assistive Technology Specialist (and Perkins alumnus) Cory Kadlik.

The library at Perkins provides accessible reading materials to anyone with disabilities that prevent them from reading print books — not only the blind and visually-impaired, but also those who have double-vision, those who cannot read print because of severe migraines, those who cannot hold print books still or at all due to physical disabilities, and those who have reading disabilities.

Perkins library services are free to anyone who qualifies for it–the application form is available online.

Kim and Cory took us on a “lower tech to higher tech journey.” They started out by demonstrating an NLS Digital Talking-Book Player, which is the most widely-used device among Perkins Library patrons. This device is shown in the photo below.  It looks like a cassette player and has just a few large buttons, which makes it relatively easy for people with many types of disabilities to use.

A picture of an talking book player from the National Library Service (NLS) for the Blind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A book for this player is recorded on a flash drive, which is then housed in a hard plastic case that is about the same size as as an audio cassette. The Perkins Library collection includes many audio books for use with this reader that have been read by local volunteers.

More information about NLS talking book players is available.

They also showed us what they called a “stream device.”  In the picture below, Kim is holding one of these devices.

Kim Charlson holds a streaming device for use by blind readers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Several different types of content are available through this device, including books from the Library of Congress, internet radio from iTunes and TuneIn, podcasts, and the Newsline service from the National Federation of the Blind, in which newspapers are read aloud. Interestingly, when Kim demonstrated this device to us, an article from the Boston Globe came up about technology for older disabled Americans, which was highly relevant to our discussion!

For more information about the NFB-Newsline service, visit the NFB-Newsline website.

Cory and Kim discussed a few text-to-speech options that can help users with computer-based research and writing, including Kurzweil software,  JAWS, and NVDA for Windows computers, and the built-in screen reading capability, Voiceover, for Mac computers.

There are also Braille note-taking devices.  Although advancements in audio technologies have helped blind people gain access to more information, Kim made it clear that it is also very important for blind people to still learn Braille because, by doing so, they also learn writing, spelling, grammar rules, and math. She stressed, in fact, that there is “no excuse for blind people not to learn it.”

Kim showed us her own Braille note-taker (shown in the picture below), which has served her well for more than 20 years.

Picture of a Braille Note-Taker Device

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She discussed the next generation of Braille note-takers, specifically mentioning the Orbit Reader, a relatively affordable new model that is compatible with iPhones.

Speaking of iPhones, Kim and Cory also demonstrated how blind people use touch-screen devices, since they cannot see the icons. There is a special setting on all major devices, including Apple and Android, that allows for this type of navigation.  Swiping the screen will prompt the device to read the icon names aloud. To select an icon, the user taps once. To perform a function, the user taps twice.  To use the keyboard, the user slides a finger around the screen to hear the letters read aloud, and then lifts up when he or she hears the desired letter (“drag and lift” technique).

Kim and Cory made several excellent points about how modern technological advances have really improved the lives of blind people. For example, accessible websites are easier to create now than ever if the W3C accessibility guidelines are followed. Cory pointed out that there is no reason you cannot have a good-looking website that is accessible if you work on it from the beginning.

Finally, they discussed virtual assistance options, like Siri for Apple devices and Echo/Alexa from Amazon. These technologies have completely transformed the lives of blind people, especially by making shopping so much easier for them. They no longer have to consider transportation barriers or other difficulties. Both Kim and Cory admitted, however, that the advantages these technologies have to offer to their community have overshadowed concerns they might have regarding data privacy.

This was such a rich and wonderful experience for the HLS Library colleagues who were able to attend! We learned so much about considerations that we should be making with regards to our blind and visually impaired patrons. We are very grateful to Kim and Cory for making the trip to the law school to offer us this excellent program.

“Are You Good?”: Making the Law Library a Welcoming Space for Military Veterans

Today the HLS Library’s Accessibility Design Working Group kicked off its summer lecture series with a presentation by Alicia M. Reddin, Director of Veterans Services for the town of Andover, MA.

Alicia, after completing her service in the Navy, graduated from Lesley University with her Bachelor’s degree in 2012.  She is currently working toward a Ph.D., focusing on veterans services, also at Lesley.

During her talk, Alicia provided a number of helpful insights to the unique needs and challenges of providing academic and library services to military veterans.

Veterans Services Officers (VSOs) like Alicia have four priorities when it comes to offering support for veterans: (1) preventing homelessness; (2) assisting in finding gainful employment; (3) facilitating the receipt of government veterans benefits; and (4) preventing substance abuse.

VSOs like Alicia employ what is known as a “three-hat strategy” in meeting these priorities.  The “Chapter 115 hat,” is named for for Chapter 115 of the Massachusetts General Laws, under which the state “provides a uniform program of financial and military assistance for indigent veterans and their dependents” (http://www.mass.gov/veterans/benefits-and-services/financial-medical-assistance.html).  The “Referral Hat” represents the work that VSOs do to acquire local resources for the benefit of veterans.  Finally, the “Grand Marshall Hat” represents participating in social events that celebrate the military and veterans, such as Memorial Day parades.

Alicia cited some sobering recent statistics about military veterans.  Only 10% of current veterans are considered to be “post-9/11,” since it is a relatively recent trend for so many members of the military to serve multiple deployments.  Alicia also reported that an estimated that more than 5 million veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (https://www.ptsd.va.gov/index.asp).

According to Alicia, approximately 773,000 students in higher education in the United States receive educational benefits from the post-9/11 GI Bill (https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/post911_gibill.asp), including financial support for housing, books, and supplies.  However, Alicia stated that it is estimated that veterans graduate at 40% of the rate of traditional students.  She believes this could be because veterans face a number of barriers to assimilating as university students, including social differences, lack of technological expertise, differences in language and speaking style, trouble in navigating scenarios that include numerous choices or too much confusing bureaucracy, and what is known as “imposter syndrome” (http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx).  In addition, veterans in academic communities may also hesitate to self-identify because of these and other differences between themselves and more traditional students.

How can academic librarians optimize their services for the benefit of veterans in our libraries?  Alicia cited several factors to keep in mind in the work that we do with this community of users.  Veterans may be suffering from PTSD, and may also be struggling with the effects of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Substance Use Disorders (SUD), migraines, and panic/anxiety episodes.  Therefore, library users who are veterans may require a space in a low-traffic area to which they can retreat, in which they can control both light and noise, and that has comfortable seating, grounding elements, and water.

Also, many veterans are looking to make connections to patient people whom they can trust, from whom they can get reliable and non-confusing help and information, and to whom they can speak plainly and directly.  Librarians may be ideal to provide this type of support in a university environment.

Among the questions Alicia was asked by the attendees was, “if we see a veteran in our library who seems to be in difficulty, what should we do?”  Alicia’s response was plain: (1) ask them, simply, “Are you good?” and (2) if they’re not good, do not hesitate to get them some immediate help: call the Veterans Affairs Benefits and Services hotline at 1-800-827-1000 and press “1” for veterans.

The HLS Library’s Accessibility Design Working Group will be offering other lectures throughout the summer.  Topics will include accessible space design and devices for blind and visually-impaired users.

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