Today, on International Women’s Day, Haley Moss is among the list of women to be celebrated and honored. She is the first openly autistic person to become a lawyer in the state of Florida, if not the country, according to the Associated Press (AP). The Parkland native graduated from the University of Miami School of Law last May and recently passed the Florida Bar. She was sworn into the Bar on January 11 of this year, administrated by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Lisa Walsh.
Moss was diagnosed with autism at age three, and her parents were told that she may never be able to work a minimum wage job or live on her own. However, like many other disabilities, autism is on a spectrum and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model when it comes to the disability.
However, Moss should not be celebrated for becoming a lawyer despite her autism, but rather for overcoming many institutional and societal barriers that came in the way because of this diagnosis.
Historically, society has had a tendency of putting all disabilities into one box and treating all people with disabilities the same, regardless of their varying conditions. Often times, exterior factors and other people set a limitation on a person with a disability without holistically evaluating them.
“Even with parents of young children, I always tell them, ‘you’re going to be amazed at what your child is able to do. Their journey is just beginning when you get a diagnosis. They’re going to be so talented and you’re going to be constantly surprised and amazed,’ and to really embrace that and embrace what makes them who they are, and what they’re good at and what makes them special,” Moss told the AP.
It is also important to note there’s a gender disparity when it comes to the diagnosis of a disability, especially autism. Since the first cases of autism diagnoses in the 1950s, researchers and physicians believed that the disorder was significantly more common in boys than in girls. This misconception unraveled decades-long pattern of doctors overlooking girls who show symptoms of autism or diagnosing them much later on in life.
Moss was a special case. Not only was she diagnosed very early on in childhood, but neither her parents or she put a limit on herself. It is her self-determination and perseverance that shined through anyone who might’ve underestimated her, that she was able to achieve her dreams of becoming a lawyer.
The National Association for Law Placement found that while the representation of other minority groups has gradually increased over the past decade, the reporting of lawyers with disabilities, of any race or gender, still remains scant, both at associate and partner levels. In 2018, 0.5% of partners self-reported as having a disability, and 0.46% for associates.
Not only has Moss blazed through the trails in a society that still holds stigmas against disabilities, but also in a profession that is historically known as being highly male-dominated. Although in 2018 the Census Bureau reported that there’s a record high number of female attorneys, one in three being women, male lawyers are earning a disproportionately higher wage than their female counterparts do.
The Census indicates that female-to-male earnings ratio for full-time, year-round attorneys is 76%, which is lower than the 80% average across all occupations.
With Moss being the tender age of 24, she has the potential of being exceptional not only in the disability community but also in society overall.
Moss is just one example of the accomplishments that people with disabilities can achieve when they surpass limitations that society too often set on them. In 2019 and onward, cases like Moss’s should not be exceptional, but rather a mere part of the norm.