Laura Waterland (left), former CLASI Disabilities Law Program Project Director, at the 2024 LIFE Conference with current Disabilities Law Program Project Director Marissa Band
Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. (“CLASI”) is proud to announce that attorney Laura Waterland is the recipient of the 2024 Lifetime Achievement Award from the State Council for Persons with Disabilities (“SCPD”), in recognition of her exemplary advocacy on behalf of Delawareans with disabilities for over three decades.
The SCPD presented Laura with the award on January 24, 2024, at the LIFE Conference, a statewide event that brought together more than 500 people with disabilities, family members, caregivers, advocates, government officials, and lawmakers from across Delaware. The Lifetime Achievement Award is given annually to someone who has shown an outstanding commitment to “enhancing the lives of Delaware’s citizens with disabilities and their families.” This year the SCPD also recognized Rep. Krista Griffith with the Legislative Service Award, John McNeal with the State Service Award, and Jillian Mathews with the Rising Star Award.
Over the course of her career, Laura has improved the lives of tens of thousands of people statewide through individual client representation, systemic litigation, community education efforts, and her extensive policy and legislative advocacy work. 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 was an attorney with CLASI’s Disabilities Law Program (“DLP”), first as a staff attorney, then senior staff attorney and supervising attorney, and finally as Project Director from 2017 to 2023.
Laura 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 (“ADA”) and state anti-discrimination laws, educational services, medical services, housing, government benefits, and treatment in the least restrictive environment.
Among her many accomplishments as a litigator, Laura brought successful lawsuits or complaints on behalf of Delawareans with disabilities against Greyhound and SuperShuttle under the ADA, successfully settled a case against Delaware Express under the state equal accommodations statute, and, with the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”), settled comprehensive curb cut litigation against the Delaware Department of Transportation. Laura also won over $200,000 in retrofits to the covered outdoor pool at the Western YMCA through the U.S. DOJ ADA mediation process, and with the U.S. DOJ successfully sued a real estate company under the Fair Housing Amendments Act leading to over $1 million in retrofits at Rockwood Apartments and substantial damage awards for her clients. Laura was the first attorney in Delaware to successfully argue for equitable estoppel in a welfare case against the state’s Division of Social Services, and she was the first to win a case requiring the Delaware Division of Medicaid and Medical Assistance to cover bariatric surgery.
Laura also engaged in extensive legislative and policy work, resulting in significant changes benefiting the disability community statewide. For example, through her work with various state councils, she recently worked with lawmakers to draft 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. The law 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. Laura also helped draft House Bill 175, which is still under consideration by the General Assembly and would establish statewide ADA standards for accessible parking and ensure the availability of wheelchair and scooter-accessible parking spaces.
Laura was also involved in drafting significant legislation including: the Delaware assistive technology lemon law; the state attendant care statute; the Delaware Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment (“DMOST”) statute, giving patients greater control over treatment decisions; revisions to the Advanced Health Care Directive and Power of Attorney statutes; the Delaware Supported Decision-Making statute; and the Jamie Wolfe Employment Act, which ensures that individuals with disabilities in Delaware are no longer paid less than the minimum wage required to be paid to other employees. In addition, Laura helped obtain policy changes making it easier for patients on Medicaid to receive life-saving Hepatitis C medication, and she has been deeply engaged in advocacy to ensure voting is accessible for Delawareans with disabilities.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Laura 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 and vaccines for people who worked or lived 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.
Beyond her work with CLASI’s Disabilities Law Program, Laura also served as a member of the State Council for Persons with Disabilities, the Delaware Developmental Disabilities Council, the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, the University of Delaware’s Center for Disabilities Studies (“CDS”) Community Advisory Council, the Children with Medical Complexity Advisory Council, and many other task forces dedicated to advancing the rights of individuals with disabilities.
We congratulate Laura on this well-deserved recognition.