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Sonja Dunnwald Peterson
Sonja Dunnwald Peterson

2021 Diversity & Inclusion: Sonja Dunnwald Peterson

Minnesota Disability Law Center

A veteran employment attorney, Sonja Dunnwald Peterson recently shifted gears to work as staff attorney at the Minnesota Disability Law Center of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid.

In fact, Peterson has considered herself a civil and human rights attorney for her entire career. She has a background of supporting the rights of individuals with disabilities, both in the employment realm and now with the Disability Law Center.

“We primarily work on cases having to do with public accommodations,” said Peterson. “Government entities and businesses providing lawful accommodations for people with disabilities — that’s what we’re most concerned with.”

The Minnesota Disability Law Center provides legal services through legal advocacy, negotiation, mediation, litigation and handling of administrative and court proceedings. It provides free civil legal assistance to individuals with disabilities statewide, regardless of age or income, on legal issues related to their disabilities.

For Peterson, that means, among other things, litigating ADA-related public access cases all the way from intake to appeal.

Due in part to COVID-19, Peterson hasn’t had any direct litigation activity since joining the Disability Law Center. But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been busy.

“I’m primarily working on issues through the state Department of Human Rights, or the Department of Justice,” she said.

Among MDLC’s initiatives is making sure that disability benefits are properly administered. It works with the Social Security Administration in cases where that body decides that a person with disabilities who gets benefits can’t manage them on their own. MDLC helps make sure that the people managing that money are doing their jobs right.

“The clients are always the most meaningful part of whatever I do,” said Peterson. “The law is designed to protect the rights of these people, and that’s meaningful. They deserve to have a fully accessible life.”

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