Inclusion, Empowerment, and Participation in Community: BBI’s Year in Review 

The Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University builds on the legacy of Burton Blatt, former dean of SU’s School of Education and a pioneering disability rights scholar, to better the lives of people with disabilities. 

With its focus on research, education, and outreach in law and public policy, BBI incorporates cross-disability issues, focusing with an intersectional lens across the whole of life, to advance the civic, economic, and social participation of people with disabilities, while building on the University’s longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

Below are highlights of BBI’s impactful work this year.

July 2020

Toward Creating a Disability-Inclusive Law School Environment

BBI co-hosted a national symposium of leading law schools titled “Call to Action: Creating a Disability-Inclusive Law School Environment” from July 7-9. The symposium convened top law schools to work on disability inclusiveness and accessibility to share ideas and resources, identify existing barriers, and ultimately form a task force that creates a more disability-inclusive future in legal education. 

Symposium topics included (1) how ableism and racism function together; (2) racial disparities in COVID-19 that impact students of color; (3) race-based trauma; and (4) the need to combat anti-blackness in disability advocacy. Co-hosts included the ABA Commission on Disability Rights, National Disability Law Student Association, Law School Admissions Council, and Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy, and Innovation at Loyola Law School.


Thirty for ADA@30

For the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, University Professor Stephen Kuusisto, Director of the BBI Office of Interdisciplinary Programs and Outreach, published 30 short essays about the law, the anniversary, and the cultural impact of ADA@30. According to Kuusisto, “I’m doing this as a disabled person who’s lived half his life before the ADA. I’m reflecting on the ‘before and after’ of the law.” Read the essays at

August 2020

Addressing Digital Access and Accessibility

The Aug. 3, 2020, edition of ADA Live!—a podcast produced for the Southeast ADA Center by BBI—took a deep dive into access for students receiving special education during the coronavirus pandemic. The podcast addressed the shift to online instruction for schools across the United States, which has exposed troubling gaps in digital access and accessibility, especially for low-income students and students with disabilities. “Schools now face the difficult task of re-imagining what instruction will look like in the future,” explain the hosts. 

September 2020

Analyzing D&I in the Legal Profession

BBI and the American Bar Association published a groundbreaking report in September 2020, uncovering prevalent reports of discrimination faced by disabled and LGBTQ+ lawyers. The study of 3,590 lawyers from every state and the District of Columbia was among the first and largest undertaking of its kind to focus on lawyers who either identify as having disabilities or who identify as LGBTQ+ in their workplaces. BBI Chairman and University Professor Peter Blanck, lead author of the study, wrote that “the longer-term objective is to help measurably enhance the professional lives of lawyers and others in the profession by understanding and mitigating pernicious sources of attitudinal stigma and structural bias.”  

Particularly noteworthy, the study examines individuals with multiple identities that intersect, such as people of differing sexual orientations and gender identities who also have disabilities. Read the study at

Disabilty Law and Policy

Professor Blanck Publishes “Disability Law and Policy”

Released to mark the 30th anniversary of the ADA, Professor Blanck’s 2020 book is a compendium of stories about how the legal system has responded to the needs of impacted individuals. 

The Foreword to Disability Law and Policy (Foundation Press) is written by Lex Frieden, an internationally distinguished disability rights scholar and advocate, and former Chairperson of the US National Council on Disability. “My story is one of many in the modern disability rights movement,” writes Frieden. “In Disability Law and Policy, Peter Blanck retells my story, and the personal experiences of many others living with disabilities, in a master tour of the area.”

BBI to Lead National Center on Employment Policy for Persons with Disabilities

In September 2020, BBI received $4.3 million from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research to lead a new national Rehabilitation Research Training Center (RRTC) on “Disability Inclusive Employment Policy.” RRTC’s goal will be to design and implement a series of studies that produce new data and evidence on policy levers to increase employment rates of persons with disabilities, with the objective of informing current and future policy and program development.

According to principal investigator Professor Blanck, RRTC will “ambitiously look across the employment lifecycle, to enhance employment entry, economic outcomes, and career growth.” The five-year project will develop a post-COVID-19 policy framework to accelerate opportunities for employment, career pathways, entrepreneurship, and economic self-sufficiency for youth and adults across the spectrum of disability.

November 2020

The Future of Workplace Accommodation

To commemorate the ADA’s 30th anniversary, the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation presented a special section of articles guest-edited by Professor Blanck. At the heart of the ADA’s drive for inclusion was the workplace accommodation principle; the special section highlights emerging research, policy, and law on the future of employment and the accommodation principle for people with disabilities, envisioning a potential future of full disability-inclusive employment. Read JOOR Vol. 31, No. 2 at 

Imagining Inclusive Public Spaces

In November 2020, BBI and the University of Leeds announced a project to investigate problems caused by unequal access to streets in 10 cities around the world and the way law and government respond to them. As part of its research, the Inclusive Public Space (IPS) project asks pedestrians about their experiences, in particular people with disabilities, older adults, and parents or caregivers. IPS is a five-year project

December 2020

Professor Peter Blanck and Professor Paul Harpur
Professor Peter Blanck and Professor Paul Harpur

Exploring New Norms in Public Health Surveillance 

Professor Blanck and BBI International Distinguished Fellow Paul Harpur were awarded a Social Science Research Council Just Tech Covid-19 Rapid-Response Grant—funded by the Ford Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation—in December 2020. 

Their project—“The Unsettling of Old Norms by a New World of COVID-19 Public Health Surveillance”—asks, How has COVID-19 public health surveillance shifted social norms pertaining to health status in public spaces? How are new health norms created by COVID-19 health surveillance creating new sites of disablement in society? How do disability discrimination and ability equality measures apply to people disabled by COVID-19 health surveillance?  How can this unsettling of abled and disabled be used to help make a more inclusive society?

February 2021

A Crip Reckoning

Postponed by the coronavirus pandemic, the University’s celebration of the ADA@30 took place in February 2021. “A Crip Reckoning: Reflections on the ADA@30” featured a distinguished panel of thought leaders and scholar-activists from the worlds of disability culture, education, advocacy, and innovation. Discussion topics included ableism, cultural change, equity, creativity, and intersectionality. “This event was not a day late and a dollar short,” said Professor Kuusisto. “By taking extra time, we’ve been able to focus on how diverse the disability community really is.”

Reporting on Alternatives to Guardianship 

A collaboration between BBI and The Arc of Northern Virginia, February 2021 saw the release of a report on the findings and recommendations of the Virginia Supported Decision-Making Pilot Project. This report provides background information and foundational research on supported decision-making as an alternative to guardianship and a way to increase self-determination and enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities. Among the report’s findings, project participants who used supported decision-making showed improved independence and decision-making skills, made better decisions, and had enhanced quality of life.

April 2021

Professor Stephen Kuusisto
Professor Stephen Kuusisto

Kuusisto Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship

In April 2021 Professor Kuusisto received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship, awarded to individuals who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or creative ability in the arts. In addition to directing BBI’s Office of Interdisciplinary Programs and Outreach, Kuusisto is a poet and writer who has authored the memoirs Planet of the Blind, Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening, and Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey, as well as the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. 

Inclusivity Through Universal and Sustainable Design 

Professor Blanck spoke at the April American Institute of Architects symposium “Inclusivity in Sustainable Design: Global Universal Design Commission—How Architecture Can Transcend Accessibility, Innovate, and Serve All.” Blanck is also Chairman of the Global Universal Design Commission. 

The discussion focused on insights, design details, and a critical paradigm shift toward the implementation of Universal Design principles that allow the development of built environments usable by all people to the greatest extent possible, without the need for retrofitting or specialized design.