10 Questions: Jason Schellack

Jason Schellack is the executive director of the Autism Advocacy & Law Center. 

1 What is your elevator pitch?

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I like to think of our firm as a full-service law firm for the disability community. Different laws and government programs each have their own definition of what a disability is. Understanding and applying the different definitions of disability makes a significant difference in our clients’ lives. As a result, we are able to assist clients with a wide variety of legal needs, including estate planning, guardianship, family law, and applications for government benefits.

2 What is the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is helping people. One of the most persistent problems in the disability community is isolation and not knowing where to turn for help. Navigating the system can be very clumsy and overwhelming. Helping clients work through the system and achieve a positive outcome is very rewarding.

3 What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love to be outside. A few years ago I started to convert my yard to native Minnesota plants and wildflowers. It’s finally starting to come together. Some of my favorites are wild bee balm and cardinal flower.

4 Before working at the Autism Advocacy and Law Center, you were a public defender. How did that experience prepare you for the work you do now?
Minnesota has a great Public Defender’s Office. My first lawyer job was in the Public Defender’s Office in Itasca County. I learned how to litigate from some of the sharpest, most compassionate attorneys in the state. This skillset really helped prepare me for my current job, because individuals with disabilities are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.

5 You are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL). Tell us about that.
I learned ASL when I worked for Camp Courage in high school and college. Camp Courage has a strong tradition of providing programming and jobs to the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community. During my years at Camp Courage, about half of the staff was Deaf or hard-of-hearing. I still use ASL in my professional life, because many of our clients have children who are non-verbal and use ASL as an important means of communication.

6 What are you reading?
I’m currently reading The Moscow Rules by Tony and Jonna Mendez. It’s a fascinating first-hand account of the covert activities the United States used during the Cold War.

7 If you could have an unlimited supply of one item (besides money) for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Coffee. Caribou coffee. It’s one of the staple food groups in our office.

8 Once upon a time, there was live theater.What was the last show you went to?
The last show I saw was the national tour of Hello, Dolly! Carolee Carmello was amazing as Dolly Levi. When live theater reopens, I hope to see Patti LuPone in the revival of Company.

9 What is your athletic pipe dream?
My athletic pipe dream is to complete 150 burpees in 10 minutes. Right now I’m at about 100.

10  April is National Autism Awareness Month. What would you like our readers to know about autism and the people touched by it?
We live in a world of neurodiversity. Every person has their own individual strengths and challenges, including individuals on the autism spectrum. Individuals with autism and related conditions have normal variations of the human brain. They don’t need to be cured; they just experience the world in a different and valuable way. Given the right supports, individuals on the autism spectrum can participate in society as meaningfully as their neurotypical peers.