Laura Waterland, Esq., will be retiring as Project Director of the Disabilities Law Program (DLP) at Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. (CLASI) at the end of June after more than 30 years as a legal aid attorney dedicated to advocating for people with disabilities across Delaware. She will be greatly missed, but we are fortunate that she is staying on with the DLP in a part-time capacity through the end of the year, serving as a special projects coordinator during this transition period.

Laura truly exemplifies what it means to be a community servant. She has devoted her legal career to advocating for some of the most vulnerable Delawareans: children and adults with physical and mental disabilities. Laura has improved the lives of tens of thousands of people with disabilities statewide through individual representation, systemic litigation, community education, and extensive policy and legislative advocacy.

After joining CLASI as a staff attorney in 1989, Laura spent five years representing low-income individuals in civil legal matters, including Social Security, public benefits, housing, bankruptcy, and disability cases. For the past 25 years, Laura has been an attorney with CLASI’s Disabilities Law Program (DLP), first as a senior staff attorney and supervising attorney, and then as Project Director starting in 2017.

Laura has worked tirelessly to advance the goals of the DLP, which is designated by the Governor as Delaware’s Protection and Advocacy System for people with disabilities. The DLP provides free legal representation statewide to children and adults with physical and mental disabilities to help protect them from abuse and neglect and to advocate for their legal rights in the community, including civil rights, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and state anti-discrimination laws, educational services, medical services, housing, government benefits, and treatment in the least restrictive environment.

“We are so thankful for Laura’s decades of service to Delawareans with disabilities,” says DLP Managing Attorney and incoming Project Director Marissa Band. “The combination of her intelligence, political savvy, and no-nonsense approach has improved the lives of individuals with disabilities in countless ways, from her zealous advocacy via direct legal representation, to her sophisticated, detailed analysis of pending legislation and regulations. Laura has also been a terrific mentor for newer attorneys and advocates, and she has inspired us all to stand firm and to not accept any nonsense.”

Laura has engaged in extensive legislative and policy work on behalf of Delawareans with disabilities, resulting in significant changes benefiting the disability community statewide. For example, through her role on different councils, she worked with lawmakers drafting House Bill 311, which was signed into law in 2022 and explicitly requires places of public accommodation – like restaurants and motels – to make reasonable accommodations so that people with disabilities can access their services. It also makes clear that people with disabilities have a right to be heard by Delaware’s Human and Civil Rights Commission if their request for a reasonable accommodation is denied.  She obtained policy changes making it easier for patients on Medicaid to receive life-saving Hepatitis C medication, and she has also been deeply engaged in advocacy to ensure voting is accessible for Delawareans with disabilities.

Laura has also been recognized for her advocacy on behalf of Delawareans with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. She was an integral part of vaccine planning efforts, always making sure that people with disabilities were not forgotten or overlooked. She helped make sure that vaccine sites were accessible and offered accommodations.  She also advocated for early access to testing for people who worked or participated in congregate settings, and for changes to Delaware’s Crisis Standards of Care to ensure that Delawareans with disabilities receive equal access to life-sustaining treatments even in times of crisis. She never backed down despite the challenges of the pandemic, and many lives were improved as a result.

Finally, Laura has served as a member of the State Council for Persons with Disabilities, the Delaware Developmental Disabilities Council, the Children with Medical Complexity Advisory Council, and many other councils and task forces dedicated to advancing the rights of individuals with disabilities.

“Laura has been a zealous, creative, brilliant advocate for Delawareans with disabilities at CLASI for over thirty years, whether leading CLASI’s efforts to improve parking access for people with disabilities, ensure that Medicaid services are provided equitably, or enable people with disabilities to live fulfilling lives in their homes and communities of choice,” says CLASI’s Executive Director Dan Atkins. “The ripple effects of Laura’s advocacy will be felt by our clients and colleagues for decades to come.”

Laura has been a member of the Delaware Bar since 1990. She received her J.D. from William & Mary, Order of the Coif, in 1985. She received her B.A. with honors from William & Mary in Government and History in 1981.

We wish Laura all the best in her well-deserved retirement and look forward to our paths crossing often in the years to come.