A dominant theme running through Jason Rosenberg’s professional career is his commitment to improving lives. From early on, when he chose to study law in order to be a part of the “urban renewal” movement of the 1960s, Jason has worked to bring people together in ways that benefit everyone, particularly those among society’s most marginalized populations.
Jason considers himself blessed to have survived the 1950s polio epidemic with strong arms, since many of the kids in the open ward he was on were left with full-body involvement. It is this extraordinarily positive attitude, combined with a self-defined element of “defensive realism”, that has allowed Jason to excel in his field and to help others excel as well. He credits first his parents, and later his wife, Donna, with creating an environment of patience and support in which he was encouraged to try things, rather than being told he couldn’t do something because of his disability.
A native of Newton, Massachusetts, Jason graduated from Boston University School of Law in 1971, and immediately accepted a position on the legal staff at Newton City Hall (with the caveat that if he didn’t pass the bar exam on first try, he would be out. He passed.) Throughout his career, which eventually led him to partnership in the Newtonville firm of Rosenberg, Freedman and Goldstein, Jason has worked tirelessly, frequently on a pro bono basis, to improve the lives of people with disabilities. He has been a member of the Municipal Commission for People with Disabilities since the late 70s, and now holds the title of chairman emeritus. His involvement with the Garden City Activity Center, a day socialization program for people with severe cerebral palsy, put him in the early stages of the Independent Living movement, and he later co-founded the Boston Self Help Center, a peer counseling/advocacy group for people with disabilities.
Some of the barriers that existed early on, such as when Jason first entered City Hall as a newly-minted lawyer and found that the building had no elevator, have been addressed. Elevators, ramps, curb cuts, and improved transportation options such as van lifts and hand controls have helped to make people with mobility limitations more visible and better able to participate in work life. Jason counts among his heroes FDR and former Boston mayor John Collins, both polio survivors who managed to navigate and excel in a world that was not especially welcoming to people with physical disabilities.
There were attitudinal barriers as well, such as the ignorance of people who didn’t understand polio and were fearful of contracting the disease through a hug or close proximity. Jason compares the situation then to the present-day treatment of people living with AIDS; it was only later in life, after the death of his parents, that he learned the extent to which they had shielded him from such hurtful discrimination.
Jason’s advice to employers who are contemplating hiring people with disabilities is to first look closely at the person’s accomplishments and skills, rather than at the disability. Don’t assume that someone can’t do something because of a disability. On the flip side of that is Jason’s advice to people with disabilities looking for work: lead with your abilities, and don’t make the pessimistic assumption that a potential employer is focusing on what you can’t do. Employers should hold employees with disabilities to the same standards as anyone else. In Jason’s view, people with disabilities are by and large a highly motivated group, willing to work longer and harder than others, not just out of a sense of obligation but also for the sense of empowerment that work can provide.
Fittingly, Jason counts an award from the Can-Do Organization among his many civic commendations. By lending his legal expertise in zoning and permitting issues to help the organization create affordable housing, he lives his belief that there should be a place for every person.