Making an impact: Student creates school's Disability Law Association


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

When Sarah Nassar was diagnosed with a progressive neuromuscular condition, her parents taught her it was not the end of the world.

“As I started to lose my ability to walk, they were there for me every step of the way supporting me in my endeavors,” she says. “I’m the first in my immediate family to go to law school and my parents have always supported my goals and dreams.”

Nassar recalls facing unlawful obstacles, including when her middle school teacher did not want to get a handicap-accessible bus for a Washington, D.C. trip and told Nassar’s mother she should take her daughter in the family’s accessible vehicle.

“My parents taught me how to advocate for myself,” Nassar says. “With the strength and knowledge I have I want to be an advocate for people who feel they don’t have a voice, for people who don’t know about the laws that are there to protect them from the discrimination and able-ism I faced.

“We all have a voice and we can all make a difference.  What makes us different is what truly allows us to make a difference on campus and in the community.”

When Nassar visited countries in the Middle East and Europe, she experienced the challenges faced by so many people.

“I learned many physically disabled people are kept inside due to inaccessibility. Streets had steps, houses had stairs, and many buildings did not have elevators as there were no laws providing accessibility be a requirement,” she says. “My goal is to make a difference for them. I want to start a non-profit organization that works on making third-world countries accessible for all people.

“I entered law school to advocate for others with the goal of learning about and changing laws that have systematically harmed oppressed communities. My lifelong goal and dream career is to become a judge after becoming a successful attorney, and really make a difference.”

Her experiences spurred Nassar, 1L class president at Detroit Mercy Law and an MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association) Michigan Ambassador, to advocate for other people who are wheelchair-mobile, including creating and serving as president of the school’s Disability Law Association.

She also is passionate about criminal justice reform, and earned her undergrad degree in criminal justice from the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

“I’ve always had a passion for helping others,” she says. “When I met my professor who was formerly incarcerated and learned about the conditions of inmates, I knew the criminal justice system needed to be reformed.”

Her enrollment in an inside prison exchange class, with university peers and individuals incarcerated at the Macomb Correctional Facility, was impactful.

“I learned a lot from my incarcerated classmates, some of whom are serving life without the possibility of parole and others who experienced recidivism because they didn’t have appropriate resources or opportunities on their release,” she says. “We, as a society, have been taught incarceration is meant for rehabilitation, but many of my incarcerated classmates were unable to get jobs or resources after release and struggled with recidivism.”

Multiple life experiences drew Nassar to study law.

“Growing up I always knew I wanted to help others and make a change. I want to educate people about their rights and change laws that have systematically harmed oppressed communities,” she says. “Many individuals are still unaware of their rights and the way the law can be used to help them. I hope to be a part of the judiciary so I can help with reform and making the world more accessible.”

Nassar got a taste of the legal world during undergrad, interning at the personal injury law firm of Berry & Berri in Dearborn where she interviewed clients, obtained police reports, and created client files.

“My favorite part was sitting through depositions and seeing the process firsthand,” she says. “I had no idea a court recorder would be there typing everyone’s answers and that depositions could even occur outside of court, pre-COVID.”

She enjoys exploring many different fields of law—and while she currently hopes to work in civil rights, disability law, or medical malpractice that might change as her studies progress.

Nassar has strong leadership skills, honed at UMD where she served as Student Body President.

“My favorite event was Constitution Day with Representatives Abdullah Hammoud, Debbie Dingell, and Professor Aaron Kinzel. I brought these representatives to inform students about their rights and advocate to change policies statewide.”

In 2019, Nassar attended the presidential leadership summit in Washington, D.C..

“Gratefully, in 2020 I was contacted by the NCLC and asked to be a part of the NCLC’s 2020 Steering Committee, to work with NCLC staff to plan all elements of the next Presidential Leadership Summit.”

In her leisure time, Nassar enjoys painting, reading, volunteering , and writing—and hopes to one day publish a book. Pre-pandemic, she enjoyed going to cafes with friends and family members, and traveling—her favorite places being Hawaii and Paris.

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