WHAT WE DO
The answer to the question "What do you do?" is frequently followed by more questions for us. So, without further adieu...
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Who are you?
iustitia legal center is a nonprofit, charitable organization that works to bridge the gap in access to justice for individuals with mental illnesses, intellectual impairments, or who are otherwise stigmatized due to the lack of acceptance of neurodiversity.
That’s great. So what do you do?
iustitia legal center seeks to challenge and change government processes that discriminate against or victimize individuals based on a mental illness, an intellectual impairment, or autism. We do so through education, advocacy, and litigation as mutually reinforcing tools to achieve the wider goals of normalizing and embracing neurodiversity and removing the stigma from discussing and treating mental illnesses.
We use the legal systems--state, federal, and international--to advocate on behalf of our clients who have been mistreated, abused, or discriminated against due to systemic failures. In doing so, we advocate for stronger legal protections for individuals living with autism, mental illnesses (like depression and PTSD), and intellectual disabilities.
Recognizing that education is an integral key to achieving true and balanced justice, iustitia seeks to bring stakeholders together to engage in important conversations, educate the community, and work together to advance the rights of those who too often become victims of the very system that should protect them.
Why do you do this work?
Societally and as a legal system, we’ve victimized people on these bases forever. But we are all better off as a society when neurodiversity is the norm, individuals with intellectual disabilities can flourish, and where individuals with mental illnesses receive the services they need rather than punishment.
How do you pronounce iustitia?
We were expecting this one. It’s pronounced: yoo-stee-sia. It’s the latin word for ‘Lady Justice,' who was the Roman goddess of justice. She was a pretty cool gal and continues to represent a shining standard to which our society should strive.
You do know that Latin’s not really used anymore, right?
We recognize that. We’re trying to do our part as lawyers to keep Latin alive. Just kidding. Niki, Sydney, and Marie, who founded the organization, were looking for something to encompass the idea that justice, by definition, cannot be discriminatory, and thought about the common symbol for “blind justice.” The term ‘iustitia’ captured that idea well. Plus, they’re three ladies.
And you write it in lowercase?
Most of the time. Otherwise everyone tries to add an “L” at the beginning. We don’t know what “Lustitia” is. The Google search results for it are...diverse. Besides, badass feminists and social justice activists like bell hooks and dream hampton* paved the way for using lowercase proper nouns.
Okay, enough about the name. So how do people get involved with your work?
For starters, if you hear about (or are directly involved in) situations where a state, administrative, or judicial system treats individuals in a discriminatory fashion because they have a mental illness, an intellectual disability, or are neurodiverse (Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dyslexia, Tourette's), contact us! It can be one instance or a systemic failure. Often, even one instance is indicative of a systemic failure. We will evaluate whether we can take on the case and what else we can do to help.
If you want to donate to us financially, please see our “Donate” page for more information. If you wish you could donate to us financially, but aren't able to do so at the moment for whatever reason, share our "Donate" page on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media accounts for all of your friends, family, and followers to see. If you know someone who might be sympathetic to our cause and may want to donate to us financially, please direct them to our “Donate" page. You get the picture.
For internship, volunteer, and job opportunities, stay tuned for our upcoming “Job Opportunities” page (the funding for that sort of depends on the above ;) ).
Finally, if you are an expert on an issue that is related to our work and are looking for a platform to discuss a pertinent legal issue, contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to post a guest blog!
Can you give us an example of what you mean by people being victimized or facing systemic injustice based on their mental illness, neurodiversity, or intellectual disability?
Yes, of course! And the examples are all around you if you look for them. And there are vast intersections with racial, gender, and other forms of discrimination. Here’s just a few examples to give you an idea:
A lack of police training on dealing with individuals suffering from mental illness leads to many police-involved fatalities, where lethal force could have been avoided.
Trafficking survivors who are denied access to appropriate legal protections because of a failure by law enforcement or other officials to understand the post-traumatic stress disorder that they may be experiencing.
The inappropriate or insufficient use of mental health courts for individuals suffering from mental illnesses or living with intellectual disabilities who are caught up in the penal system.
The unchecked and inappropriate use of practices such as solitary confinement in prisons ill-equipped to handle symptoms and behavioral issues associated with mental illnesses from which many prisoners suffer, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
School systems that fail to recognize that behavioral issues in minority children are due to autism, a disability, or PTSD, and instead of providing appropriate care and services, punish and suspend them.
Are you all medical or mental health experts?
No. Not in the slightest. But we work with some great medical and mental health experts and researchers who support our work. We are lawyers and work on the legal aspect with their guidance.
You use the term "neurodiversity" in your materials and in your tagline. What do you mean by this?
Neurodiversity is a big word that means exactly what it sounds like. It just means that individuals' brains are diverse and that's a good thing for our society. Basically, individuals may be on the autism spectrum, or be bipolar, or dyslexic, or have an intellectual disability. The movement to embrace neurodiversity is saying that this is such a huge benefit for us. Instead of seeing these diversities as "disorders" or "illnesses," we should be embracing that diversity and the unique perspectives and abilities that individuals contribute to society, as individuals, not to be defined solely by their "condition."
So are you part of the neurodiversity movement?
In a way. We like to think that we are supportive of its aims and are doing our part to advance the embrace of neurodiversity in American society. We listen to and learn from the neurodiversity movement.
Your mandate seems really huge. For example, you support people suffering from mental illnesses and advocate on their behalf as well as on behalf of individuals on the autism spectrum, people with intellectual disabilities, and bipolar disorder. Are you afraid that this will end up conflating all of these very different things?
This is a great point. Let's take a minute to clarify. Just because it might cause some confusion, we wouldn't want individuals that should be able to access our services to be excluded or deterred because of confusion about our message.
We do not want to conflate mental illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression with intellectual disabilities. We also do not want to conflate any of these with autism. Mental illnesses can occur in anyone, including individuals with autism or with intellectual disabilities. We seek to provide pro bono services to individuals that have been victimized or discriminated against as a result of their mental illness.
By the same measure, we support he neurodiversity movement across the country by providing legal services to individuals with autism or intellectual disabilities that have been victimized as a result of behaviors associated with autism or their disability, regardless of whether the individual had an underlying mental illness.
Finally, we provide our voice, advocate, and educate on all of these issues, particularly where there are intersections. But we do not seek to paint individuals with a broad brush and want to be absolutely clear that we are aiming for a #stigmafree world where we can talk about mental illness, autism, disability, neurodiversity, and bipolar disorder in a way that embraces each individual's humanity and advances their legal rights as an individual.
Anything else we should know?
*bell hooks and dream hampton have absolutely no affiliation with iustitia. The iustitia co-founders do not know either bell hooks or dream hampton, but simply admire their activism.