Equal Justice Works Fellowship Allows Student to Aid Those with Disabilities

smiling professional Latina woman in black shirt with gold necklace
Desiree Robedeaux ’23 is doing public-interest work this summer after winning a prestigious Equal Justice Works fellowship.

UC Hastings law student Desiree Robedeaux ’23 is spending her summer helping people with disabilities prepare for, respond to, and recover from wildfire disasters.

She won a prestigious fellowship from Equal Justice Works, an organization that pairs law students with public interest groups to promote public service leadership. The fellowship is part of the organization’s Disaster Resilience Program.

Robedeaux is working with the Sacramento-based nonprofit Disability Rights California. Her work includes addressing wildfire-related issues that affect people with disabilities, such as public safety power shutoffs, housing displacement, emergency transportation, and poor air quality.

“I am eager to do this work because individuals most at risk of enduring severe consequences of wildfires are lower-income people with disabilities who often lack access to adequate legal aid,” she said.

Robedeaux’s duties include helping conduct disability rights training sessions, setting up legal aid clinics in rural areas, performing legislative and policy research, and answering questions from community members about wildfire preparedness. She also helps people apply for assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and appeal FEMA denials.

“Wildfire disasters are overwhelming and cause so many unforeseen legal issues, especially for people with disabilities who are often overlooked in the disaster recovery and planning process,” said Linda Anderson Stanley, senior program manager at Equal Justice Works. “We are thrilled to have Desiree join the Disaster Resilience Program this summer and look forward to supporting her work to help build a more inclusive disaster response to wildfires in California.”

Making sure those with disabilities can obtain essential services is an issue close to Robedeaux’s heart, she said, because pro bono lawyers helped her after she was denied accommodations in grade school. “The work of my pro bono attorneys allowed me the opportunity to graduate from high school and ultimately changed the trajectory of my life,” she said. “It was this experience that empowered me to pursue the field of disability rights and advocacy.”

This is not Robedeaux’s first time providing legal assistance to underserved communities. During her first two years of law school, she worked with the nonprofit Legal Services for Children as part of the UC Hastings Lawyering for Children Clinic. She also clerked with Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund last summer and did a semester-long clerkship with Disability Rights California through the school’s Legal Externship Program.

“These opportunities have allowed me to obtain supervised direct legal experience working with communities in need of pro bono legal assistance,” she said.

Robedeaux, who grew up in the Mojave Desert in Southern California, said she plans to continue working to defend the rights of people with disabilities after she finishes law school. “I hope to use my legal education as a tool to enforce and expand legal protections for multiple marginalized people with disabilities as a disability civil rights attorney.”