An Early Interest in Advocacy Launched a Fulfilling Career

Two people in business wear talk in a professional setting

As a Public Policy Analyst for the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), Claire Stanley, J.D., works with the public policy team to advocate for legislation that impacts people with disabilities. Advocating for others is something she’s been involved with since high school – and she started learning to advocate for herself starting in third grade. That’s when she was diagnosed with optic nerve glioma, which is a brain tumor on the optic nerve. Claire went through treatment but quickly lost most of her vision.  

“I can see a little bit, but things are really distorted, so I don’t have enough vision to use large print,” she explains. “I use screen reading software, and I’m a very proud and avid braille user. That’s what got me through college and law school, and I use it at work, too.” 

Claire didn’t necessarily have to advocate for herself throughout her public school education. During grade school and high school, there was a neighboring school district with a resource class for students who are blind or low vision, which is where she learned braille and more from a Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) and an Orientation & Mobility (O&M) instructor. She was fully mainstreamed with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), other than one year at the California School for the Blind in sixth grade, in a program designed to help students transition to middle school and high school.   

“I was participating in my IEPs from a pretty young age, so I could ask for what I needed,” Claire says. “My TVI and O&M instructors would take me to places like restaurants and say, ‘You have to order. We’re not going to be your voice. You’re going to have to speak up for yourself.’” 

Using her voice for herself and others 

A self-described extrovert, Claire has always found it easy to speak up for herself. She started getting involved in the disability advocacy community in high school through a program that brought together youth with disabilities. Claire went with them to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., where she and other students had the chance to meet with federal agencies. 

“We really got to sink our teeth into the advocacy space,” Claire says. “I was bit by the bug of advocacy and stayed in that community ever since.” 

After high school, Claire earned her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Davis, where she double-majored in Political Science and Communications. She earned her law degree from the University of California, Irvine in 2015. Claire was fortunate that electronic and braille resources were readily available during her college studies.  

During law school, she had a public interest fellowship with a nonprofit. She went on to work for the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center, part of a federally mandated program that educates people on the Americans With Disabilities Act.  

At NDRN, Claire gets to use her extroverted nature and passion for advocacy excellently.  

“I love that my job is literally to network and get to know people,” she says. “I’m not just behind a computer, but I get to go and make connections and relationships.” 

She values being actively engaged, especially because she’s always been interested in American politics. Sometimes, her job means advocating for positive legislation for people with disabilities. At other times, it means advocating against harmful legislation. 

“Although it hasn’t passed yet, it was really exciting to see the Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act get introduced,” Claire says. “We worked on it for a long time with many other groups.” 

Making the most of life outside work 

Naturally, Claire speaks up for herself in her personal life, too. She’s been interested in arts and crafts since childhood and says she’ll try anything once. Her TVI taught her to knit, which she still does, and she makes quilts – relying on her sense of touch to feel the stitches going through the sewing machine. 

When she wanted to learn to work with beads, Claire walked into a store and said, “I’d like to take a class. I’m blind, so I know it will be different – I need to be hands-on.” The teacher said yes, which wasn’t the only time asking to participate yielded positive results.  

Her outgoing personality also made her a natural on a one-season docuseries produced and aired on Disney+ called Pick of the Litter. The show followed six dogs from birth who Guide Dogs were training for the Blind in California. Claire had applied for a dog there and was surprised to get a call one day saying the dog they wanted to place her with was part of the documentary, and the producers asked to film her, too. 

“I said sure, and it was quite the experience,” she says. Her previous dog guide, Kodiak, and the dog she was placed with – her current dog guide, Tulane – were featured in the show alongside Claire. “They filmed me in Washington, D.C., where I live before I flew to California to get Tulane.” 

Clearly, Claire’s professional and personal life are active and fulfilling. And she’s never forgotten what she was learned from a young age: Speak up. 

“Being your own advocate is really helpful in all contexts,” Claire says, “whether you’re getting a piece of legislation passed or signing up for a class at the local arts and crafts store.”  

Editor’s note: Claire Stanley, a dedicated advocate, will transition to a new role in January 2024. She will bring her passion and expertise to the American Council of the Blind (ACB) as their incoming Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs. Her commitment to fostering change and amplifying voices in the community will undoubtedly enhance ACB’s mission and initiatives. Join us in congratulating Claire on this exciting new chapter! 

Learn more 

Claire has even more to share about her career experiences. Watch her on Career Conversations.