In 1948, a handful of wounded World War II veterans in the United Kingdom had decided that, despite their physical disabilities, they still wanted the thrill of athletic competition. They formed the International Wheelchair Games, with the wheelchairs winning 1-0 after 38 overtime periods and five straight days of play. In 1960, these became the Paralympic Games, a name that in committee voting just barely edged out “Olmparalyzedic Games.”
Today, the Paralympic Games offer contestants confidence, happiness, hope, gratification, pride, satisfaction, dignity, joy, self-esteem, pleasure, glory, and respect, as well as other positive mental states. But you don’t have to be in shape to achieve these emotions. Those with physical impairments who are as good at filing a timely writ as a legless snowboarder can be on a really big half-pipe might find that all their dreams can come true in the field of law — by becoming a paralegal.
People often criticize the legal profession as cold and uncaring. One would think that, in the cutthroat world of lawyers, any disadvantage would be exploited and abused. But paralegals are proof that there is compassion in the law, and that, even they are not able to practice law at the same level as attorneys with fully functioning limbs and biological functions, they can still provide valuable services — such as getting coffee or making photocopies, provided they have hands and can stand up to use a copy machine of normal height.
As such, paralegals deserve respect. Long gone are the days where prejudiced lawyers would refer to them by such outdated terms as “handicounselled,” or “advocripples.” Even names that were recently acceptable, such “disablawyered,” are no longer preferred, as they suggest a lack of legal ability, and are additionally difficult to pronounce.
But might we be able to do more? Anyone who has ever spent significant time with paralegals can attest to their determination and drive to excel at the law, as much as they can under the circumstances. Perhaps it is time that we give paralegals — aided by modern scientific advances — the chance to compete where it counts: the courtroom. In one proposed model, paralegals would be given clients and then try cases against each other as similar as possible to the way non-disabled lawyers would. Where possible, adaptive technology would aid their ability to litigate. For example, wheelchairs may have podiums built into them, or blind paralegals could have seeing-eye dogs that bark when a witness is acting suspiciously.
It’s important to remember that what would be important in the paralegal justice system is not whether the paralegal wins or loses the case, but that he or she had the courage to attempt to try cases at all. So support paralegals and their fight to gain a forum where they can face off in an adversary system against their own kind. All those who are physically disabled deserve to compete, whether it is on a court of basketball or in a court of law.