Disability Justice Motivates Law Student in Career, Student Organization

October 30, 2023 | Diversity, News, Student Success, UToday, Alumni, Law
By Nicki Gorny

Lynn Hancsak only ever briefly strayed from her dreams of a legal career.

As a teenager she toyed with the idea of teaching special education. She was spending a lot of time with classmates with disabilities through a peer mentoring program at her high school and a less formal arrangement over the summer, and she really enjoyed it, as she recalled telling a teacher.

Feature photo of Lynn Hancsak, a second-year student at the College of Law, standing in front of books in a law library.

Lynn Hancsak is a second-year student at the College of Law. Last semester she founded the student organization Disability and Education Law Association.

The teacher replied with a life-changing suggestion.

“She said we need people to advocate for students with special needs,” Hancsak said. “That kind of opened my eyes and put me back on the path to law school.”

Today Hancsak is a second-year student at The University of Toledo College of Law, where she remains so passionate about this mission that last semester she founded the Disability and Education Law Association (DELA). The student organization is geared toward students interested in working in these interconnected fields, as well as students who are navigating law school with a disability themselves and are attracted to the community and resources the organization provides.

The student organization taps into a broader area of interest within the College of Law, where administrators also last semester introduced a graduate certificate in Disability Studies.

The Disability and Education Law Association counts a five-person executive board of a dues-paying membership of about 20, with more than twice as many students engaged via emails and events. In one recent example, the organization invited representatives of UToledo’s Office of Accessibility and Disability Resources to present on how to request testing accommodations on the Ohio Bar Examination.

“DELA is organizing events that students are really interested in,” said Lesa Byrnes, advisor to the student organization and director of lawyering skills at the College of Law. “There’s a lot of engagement on the part of students. Lynn and the executive board are picking good topics.”

Byrnes met Hancsak in a first-year legal writing course and was immediately impressed.

“Lynn is a wonderful student. She’s a real go-getter, and she’s engaged with the community,” she said. “She just hit the ground running with DELA.”

Hancsak, who grew up in southeast Michigan, comes to UToledo with a bachelor’s degree in legal studies with a juvenile justice minor from Grand Valley State University in Michigan. She’s been active within the UToledo College of Law, including in last year’s inaugural Trial Advocacy Student Competition. She’s also a legal intern at the Toledo Legal Aid Society.

Education and disability law are more than professional interests to Hancsak. She recounts personal experiences throughout her life that touch on both, and credits these in part with the sense of empathy and purpose that she brings to her work.

Hancsak said she learned as an undergraduate that her medical conditions, including an occasionally debilitating migraine disorder, are considered disabilities. So she understood the importance of connecting with the Office of Accessibility and Disability Resources when she arrived at UToledo.

But she said she found that many of her fellow students were not aware of the accommodations to which their conditions and circumstances might entitle them.

The questions she was fielding suggested an interest in disability access among her classmates. That was the seed for the new student organization, which held its first meeting in February.

To pair disability law with educational law seemed natural to Hancsak.

“Educational law and disability law are so intertwined, and each of them are intertwined with so many other facets of the law,” she said. “Disability law is in education law in 504 plans and IEPs. We see it in criminal law, when we talk about client interviews and mitigation.”

Hancsak has picked up some experience in the latter since she began interning last semester with the Toledo Legal Aid Society. She’s enjoyed the work so much that it’s tweaked her career plans just a bit since that memorable conversation with her high school teacher.

Today her dream is a private practice specializing in education, specifically IEP and 504 plan compliance, paired with public defense work through an organization like the Toledo Legal Aid Society.

“When you are experiencing injustice or your child is experiencing injustice, and you’re up against what looks like a wall, you need someone to help you,” she said. “I want to be that person.”

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