Getting to Know You
- Your name: Emily Munson
- What’s your connection with disability? I have spinal muscular atrophy and need assistance with all activities of daily living.
- Star Trek or Star Wars? Definitely Star Trek: The Next Generation.
- If you could live in any other country for 2 years, where would you go? Deutschland!
- What dish would your bring to our community picnic potluck? I’d bring something delicious and easy to stab with a fork. Maybe Schwartzwaelder Kirschtort?
Now That We’ve Been Introduced…
- What do you do: I lead the employment practice group at Indiana Disability Rights, my state’s protection and advocacy agency. If a Hoosier with a disability faces discrimination at or applying for work, or if someone has a dispute with Indiana’s vocational rehabilitation program, I’m here to help! Although we make efforts to resolve cases in the least adversarial manner, sometimes my clients and I end up at administrative hearings or in court.
- How did you come to doing what you do? How has your career trajectory flowed? I never anticipated litigating! My academic credentials include a JD with an emphasis in health law, a MA in bioethics, and a LLM in Health Law, Policy & Bioethics. I wanted to work at a hospital, participating on its ethics committee and serving in an advisory capacity. However, I entered the legal market in 2010 when there was one job opening for every two unemployed attorneys in Indiana.
I searched for nearly three years before getting hired by the Indiana Family & Social Services Administration. There, I began as an administrative law judge, writing decisions to end a major backlog. When that task was complete, I was transferred to a staff attorney role, advising agency divisions on matters ranging from opioid treatment centers to First Steps.
When I transferred to Indiana Disability Rights, I was given the opportunity to advocate for people with disabilities rather than against them. Initially, I worked on a variety of disability rights issues, from education to Title III ADA cases. After a reorganization, I was placed in the employment practice group. In addition to helping people get or remain employed, I’m also privileged to supervise Indiana Disability Rights’ legal interns.
- Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years? Litigating across the entire state is beginning to wear on my weakening body. Eventually – maybe in five years, but time shall tell– I would love to become a law professor. It would be a dream come true to teach younger generations about civil rights laws, including their intersection in the world of bioethics! I would also like to continue volunteering with the Fairbanks Center for Medical Ethics, providing a disability perspective on healthcare and bioethics.
I dearly hope that I will have the stamina to continue advocating for people with disabilities outside of work time. Currently, I serve on the Indiana Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities, the Indianapolis Mayor’s Advisory Council on Disability, and the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana. I hope that I can work with peers from these organizations to develop a more aggressive public policy agenda for people with disabilities. Within five years, I would love to see Indiana offer consumer-directed care options for all Medicaid beneficiaries needing personal care. And a visitability ordinance in Marion County. And Indiana devoting a greater percentage of its Medicaid budget to home and community-based services rather than institutional care. And on and on…
- Not to be morbid, but what do you want people to remember about you when you’ve gone? I hope people remember me as a person who refused to take “no” for an answer; I do not pay heed to so-called barriers, and I am relentless in pursuing my ends. That sounds a bit Machiavellian, but I do hope people remember me lovingly.
- Who or what inspires you? Being a person with a disability, the word “inspiration” automatically makes me shudder. Getting past that instinctive reflex, I’d have to say John Frusciante. People probably best know him as the former guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but he has an interesting solo career. Much of his music is downright bizarre, but I cannot get enough of it! Something about the music resonates deeply within me and makes me feel like Frusciante is a kindred spirit. The ability to reach people in that way is amazing. I also love that Frusciante doesn’t really care what others think about his work. His devotion to creation inspires me.
- If you could say something to yourself in the past – that is, the you that was really struggling with something related to disability – what would you say? I don’t like thinking about changing the past. I have no regrets about decisions I made in my youth, and I worry that giving myself knowledge from the future would fundamentally change the person I am today.
- What do you like about your particular disability? It may sound obnoxious, but many of people I’ve met with spinal muscular atrophy have a wide vocabulary and high IQ. Some speculate our intellectual functioning is so well-developed because other qualities, such as physical coordination and strength, are underdeveloped. Regardless, I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to be something of a lifelong learner.
- Any one thing that you wish people would *get* about disability? I think many non-disabled people failed to recognize that life with a disability can be – and often is – fantastic! I’m a practicing attorney. I have a good family that supports me. I am leaving for a Moroccan vacation in two days. Life is good!
- What single piece of technology makes your life easier? My BiPAP has literally saved my life, breathing for me at night because my diaphragm muscles get too tired to do the job. In fact, if I were born any earlier than I was (i.e., in 1984), I doubt I would be alive today. Ain’t technology grand?
- My website is www.emilymunson.com and
- my Twitter handle is @DieKaiserin.
- You can also feel free to add me on LinkedIn.