University alum Richard Bernstein’s work is reflected in Detroit Metro Airport, Detroit buses and even the Big House. And tomorrow, his work will be recognized by the University.

Bernstein, an attorney who returned to his alma mater to teach about social activism, will receive the James T. Neubacher Award tomorrow for his work to raise awareness about disabilities. Bernstein, who is blind, focuses on pro bono cases representing people with disabilities. Some of his successes include improving disability access in Detroit Metro Airport and the Big House as well as making Detroit buses wheelchair accessible.

The annual award is bestowed upon a person affiliated with the University who has raised awareness and understanding of disabilities. The Neubacher Award, first presented in 1990, is given in memory of University alum James T. Neubacher, an advocate for disability awareness who died in 1990.

Anna Schnitzer, chairwoman of the Neubacher Award Committee, said the award committee chose Bernstein because “he has actually done so much (for disability awareness).”

“He is so dynamic,” Schnitzer said.

Representing the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America, Bernstein filed a lawsuit against the University in 2007 advocating for better wheelchair access in Michigan Stadium. Though the lawsuit was dropped, it resulted in expanded wheelchair accessible seating in the Big House, which was included in the renovations that were completed last year.

“Everyone can now look at the Big House with a tremendous sense of pride and excitement,” Bernstein said. “The University of Michigan stadium is now the benchmark and is now the leading stadium for accessibility all across the country.”

Bernstein, who works at the Farmington Hills, Mich.-based Sam Bernstein Law Firm, said that he was inspired to help people with disabilities during his time at Northwestern University Law School.

“I used to pray every day that God would give (me) the strength to make it through law school,” Bernstein said. He said he promised God that if he became an attorney, he would dedicate his life to “trying to make life better for people with disabilities and special needs.”

Bernstein said he looks for cases in which people are “facing tremendous injustice and tremendous hardship” and who would otherwise go unrepresented in court.

Bernstein said he hopes his speech, which he will deliver tomorrow when he receives the award at Rackham Graduate School, will “inspire and incite folks to recognize the fact that whatever it is they care about … that students find their purpose, know why they were created and live life with that kind of passion.”

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