Law Students of the Year: Frances Isbell, University of Alabama

Frances Isbell was one of 16 graduate students of the inaugural class of the Albert Schweitzer Fellows at University of Alabama School of Law. She’s using her fellowship to help and provide resources to those living with a disability in Alabama. She’s doing so big time.

The graduate students from Alabama colleges and universities receive $2,500 and spend an academic year learning how to effectively address the social factors that impact health, while developing lifelong leadership skills. As part of her fellowship, Isbell has donated more than 120 volunteer hours, and she will donate at least 80 more volunteer hours by the time her fellowship ends in 2017.

She organized an Alabama chapter of NMD United, a non-profit association composed of adults living with neuromuscular disabilities that provides resources to promote independence, and created a support network for teens and adults with neuromuscular conditions, such as Spinal Muscular Atrophy and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. She also created and distributed informational packets for managing personal assistance services.

With the help of the University Center of Excellence on Developmental Disabilities in Birmingham, she produced a 30-minute video about self-advocacy, and it covers such topics as how to gain access to transportation and housing.

“Frances came to law school with a passion for disability rights law, and she has pursued this passion from day one,” said Glory McLaughlin, assistant dean for Public Interest. “Due to her dedication to this area of law, she is uniquely suited to recognize the most pressing needs of people living with disabilities and to create effective programs for meeting those needs.”

Isbell is organizing financial planning workshops for individuals with disabilities in 2017 so that they can learn about the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, or the ABLE Act. “It’s really going to impact the disability community in the next few years, so I want to do an outreach project because most people haven’t even heard of the accounts,” Isbell said.

Projects like Isbell’s provide a much-needed resource to an underserved community. Individuals with neuromuscular conditions often face challenges in everyday activities, including transportation, voting, finding housing and applying for Social Security.

Nash is one of 25 future lawyers honored in the National Jurist’s 2017 “Law Student of the Year” feature. Find more honorees here

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