Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein Continues Crusade for Disability Rights

April 24, 2024, 9:00 AM by  Allan Lengel

Justice Bernstein get UN award in Egypt recently.

At the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, state  Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein, who is blind, recently delivered a message to a group of Egyptians and Americans with disabilities.

“The biggest struggle is to get those who are not disabled to provide opportunities and a change to those who are," he told them.

For the past three decades, Bernstein has repeated that mantra domestically and internationally as an advocate for those with disabilities, initially as a private attorney and now as a judge when court isn't in session. He's made trips, arranged through the U.S. State Department and the United States Agency International Development (USAID), to places including United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, India, Israel, Colombia and Bolivia. His next advocacy trip is to China in July. 

Justice Bernstein at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo

"The whole goal is to create a better life for people with disabilities, for those who are struggling, who have special needs," he says. "We have to take down some of the barriers."  He says in some countries discrimination against the disabled is a very serious issue.

In his last trip in February and March to Egypt and Saudia Arabia, he used different venues to get out his message. 

"It was a lot of work. It was mainly television and newspapers, universities, secondary educational schools,  and businesses and corporations. They were very open to the message." 

He was given a United Nations award in Egypt for global advocacy for persons with disabilities. 

In early 2021, Bernstein was invited by the United Arab Emirates royalty to help draft policy for disabilities in the Middle East in conjunction with the Abraham Accords, a peace agreement between Israel and the UAE, Morocco and Bharain, which came to fruition at the tail end of the Trump administration.

In April, he went to Israel to finish working on policy while continuing to do his Supreme Court work.

Bernstein says he hasn't let his disability prevent him from achieving goals. He's run 26 marathons and was re-elected to the Supreme Court in 2022 to an eight-year term.

But he knows the impediments others who are blind deal with even in the U.S. 

"Eight five percent of the blind community is currently unemployed. That's not because they're not hardworking. It's not because they're not passionate. It's simply socioeconomic. They weren't given the blessings I was given. You need a supportive family. You need some educators who are willing to say, 'we are going to believe in this person.' 

"It's gonna be hard, it's gonna be difficult, it's gonna be challenging. But that anything and everything really is possible. " 


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