Paving the way in mental disability law

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New York Law School continues to lead the country in mental disability law education.  The school’s online mental disability law program, the nation’s first when it was created in 2000, has expanded to include 13 courses, including recent additions such as its ‘Race, Gender, Class and Mental Disability’ and ‘Trauma and Mental Disability’ courses. In 2009, the school created an online Master of Arts in Mental Disability Law Studies, providing further opportunities for law students and non-law students alike to explore this largely misunderstood aspect of the law.

“Our biggest expansion in recent years has been in our breadth of classes,” NYLS adjunct professor Debbie Dorfman said. “At most law schools, there is just one disability law class a year. Mental disability law classes are even rarer.”

Michael Perlin, a world renowned mental disability law expert, founded the online program. A New York Law School professor since 1984, Perlin has written more than 200 scholarly articles and is the author of more than 20 books, including “The Hidden Prejudice: Mental Disability on Trial.” Along with law students, the program was meant to attract medical workers, social workers, and individuals from other professions seeking a mental disability law education.

The program has partnered with a number of schools, both domestically and internationally, to attract students. This academic year, Dorfman said she has a forensic psychiatrist and a psychologist from Australia participating in her courses.

“People don’t realize that mental disability law affects everything, from housing to family law issues,” Dorfman said. “It’s traditionally has not received the respect from legal scholars it deserves.”

She said that the program’s online format provides a unique opportunity to provide videos from a variety of mental disability experts, use blogging tools to inspire discussions and engage students in other ways that isn’t always easy in the traditional law school setting.

“I think people often find it hard to talk in a large class,” Dorfman said. “People online seem to be pretty involved and engaged.”

In addition, the school provides a Certificate in Advanced Mental Disability Law Studies.