Sometimes, however, the very term disabled rankles people. Miller learned that when, as director of litigation for the Western Law Center for Disability Rights, he filed lawsuits on behalf of people with HIV and AIDS, claiming disability civil-rights violations. Some of his clients rejected the label, and were in fact deeply offended by it, he says. “There’s so much stigma attached to being disabled, that people who may suffer from discrimination are willing to say, ‘That’s somebody else, that’s not me,’” Miller says.

“As self-identifying as someone who is disabled, I recognize that disability occurs in many different ways,” he adds. “It’s not just people who use wheelchairs or who are blind and who are deaf. It’s a whole lot of other folks. We have to embrace and recognize the universality of that.”

With his help the stigma is dwindling, says Cary Egan of Philadelphia, former vice president of public relations for Little People of America. In 2002 she presented Miller with its annual Award for Promoting Awareness of Individuals with Dwarfism, for his work with the EEOC and his role in promoting awareness not only of people with dwarfism, but with other disabilities as well.

“He’s done a lot to improve the lives of millions of people with disabilities and also mentoring LPA in terms of having more of a disability identity,” says Egan. “He’s really putting dwarves on the map, so to speak.”

 

The problem of discrimination in the workplace differs for employers and employees, just as it differs in New York or Jackson, Mississippi, or Boise, Idaho, Miller says. So he speaks to people who have different perspectives in different places. It’s important for federal policymakers to break free of the Beltway, or the “echo chamber,” as he calls it, and listen to the views of the people whose lives they affect, he says.

“Paul Miller’s involvement has been to reach out to people all over the United States to encourage them to use the system,” says Charles Warner, a partner at Porter Wright Morris & Arthur in Columbus, Ohio, who represents employers in connection with discrimination charges. Warner, who served as management co-chair of the equal employment-opportunity committee of the American Bar Association from 2000 to 2002, has invited Miller to speak at his firm and calls him “one of the most effective speakers and representatives of the EEOC.” His work with the agency’s mediation program has benefited both employers and employees, according to Warner: “Paul sees this as an opportunity to mend the problem before it gets worse. Paul understands that he and the EEOC are doing a better job getting the parties together to talk about solutions rather than talking about war.”

Miller takes obvious pleasure in explaining things to people, in teaching them, Warner says. So it does not surprise him that he would embrace teaching as the next step in his career. Yet law schools don’t typically embrace people for their tenured faculty who are known for their experiences outside academe.

That stance has ill-served legal education, says W.H. “Joe” Knight Jr., dean of the University of Washington School of Law. Bolstered by his professional, political, and personal background, Miller will help students there learn how to solve problems in a complex world, Knight says. And he will show them—and others—that we all have limitations, and we all can overcome them.

“We want people who have real-world experience, people who are not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom, and Paul clearly does that,” Knight says. “He does not see himself as someone disabled by his physical limitations. That’s an important message to those of us who are often disabled not by our physical limitations but by our mental limitations. And I think that Paul will be a great person to teach us all how to rise above it.”

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2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 08/27/04

FEATURE: Signature Style
By Lewis I. Rice
Photography by Jim Graham

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