Arlene B. Mayerson became the Directing Attorney of Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) in 1981, and has devoted her career exclusively to disability rights practice. She has provided representation, consultation to counsel, and coordination of amicus briefs on key disability rights cases before all levels of federal court, including the U.S. Supreme Court. She was appointed by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education to the Civil Rights Reviewing Authority, responsible for reviewing civil rights decisions of the Department.
One of the nation’s leading experts in disability rights law; Ms. Mayerson has been a key advisor to both Congress and the disability community for four decades on major disability rights legislation. Ms. Mayerson has been called upon to give testimony to several committees of Congress on both the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She is regarded as a key visionary and architect of the ADA. Scholar Lennard J. Davis noted Ms. Mayerson’s contributions as the “brains behind the Americans with Disabilities Act,” in his seminal history of the ADA “Enabling Acts.”
The ability to recognize and respond to far-reaching issues emerging in disability rights law has been a hallmark of Ms. Mayerson’s work throughout her career. Ms. Mayerson brought the first ADA case challenging the failure of preschools to assist children with diabetes in basic diabetes care. The case challenged the idea that licensed personnel were needed to provide basic care, preformed at home by parents and siblings. This victory led to litigation challenging the California Department of Education (CDE) and local school districts for failing to provide diabetes care in grades K-12. This litigation led to a landmark settlement with the CDE to ensure that all students in public schools receive the care they need to be safe at school. Because the settlement established a statewide policy that recognized the preeminence of the ADA and the IDEA over State licensing rules, the policy was challenged by the nurses unions. After years of litigation, the rights of school children with disabilities were affirmed.
Ms. Mayerson envisioned and led litigation that resulted in a landmark opinion finding that Internet only businesses like Netflix are covered by the ADA. National Ass’n of the Deaf v. Netflix, Inc., 869 F.Supp.2d 196 (D. Mass. 2012). This ruling enabled DREDF to attain agreements on captioning with all of the other major streamers, changing a major source of entertainment for millions of deaf and hard of hearing people. Ms. Mayerson was also a lead counsel on litigation against Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for failing to caption videos intended for the public. The recent settlements in those cases, after five years of litigation, now set the standard for universities across the nation.
Ms. Mayerson’s current work includes the development of special education-related legal remedies to challenge restraint and seclusion in K-12 schools, and to combat the school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately affects African American boys in public schools.
Ms. Mayerson has received countless accolades and awards for her work, notably the American Bar Association Paul G. Hearne Award for Disability Rights in 2016. In 2018, she was recognized as a National Women’s History Project Honoree. She was awarded the Spirit of Independence Leading Advocate Award from the Center for Independent Living in 1993, the American Diabetes Association Public Policy Award in 1997, and the John and Elizabeth Boalt Lecturer Award in 2013. In 2014 she was a recipient of the Henry Viscardi Achievement Award and received the Starkloff Disability Institute’s Open Door Award in 2015. She has published many articles on disability rights and is the author of a comprehensive three-volume treatise on the ADA: Americans with Disabilities Act Annotated-Legislative History, Regulations & Commentary (Clark Boardman Callaghan, 1994), which sets forth the legislative history and regulations for each provision of the ADA.