2013 graduate Andrew Sartorius receives his hood from Dean Ellen Suni.
Recent graduate Andrew Sartorius is no stranger to advocacy—he’s been doing it practically his entire life. Born with oculocutaneous albinism, which affects pigmentation of the skin, hair, and eyes and causes vision problems, Sartorius has had to advocate for himself throughout his life to make sure he is getting the accommodations and education he needs.
Sartorius learned from an early age that self-advocacy consisted of an entire process. He first had to identify what he needed, then do whatever was in his power to reach that goal and finally ask for help for things beyond his ability.
“Elementary school consisted of trial and error and undergraduate was even more trial and error, especially with my major in biology,” said Sartorius. “By law school, I knew what I needed and UMKC has been extremely accommodating.”
Before attending UMKC, Sartorius graduated from Rockhurst University and went on to pursue a graduate degree in biology from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. During his first semester, he realized that it wasn’t where he wanted to be and started investigating the possibility of law school.
“I had to approach it realistically,” said Sartorius. “I would have to explain my disability all the time, and I didn’t want to fight uphill battles. It just wasn’t the right fit. I decided on law school because I was trying to find a way to serve other people. I knew it was the way I could have a good career and use my natural talents to help people.”
Sartorius applied to UMKC because it seemed like the perfect fit. As a St. Louis native, he knew he wanted to stay in Missouri. After attending Rockhurst, he also knew he loved the Kansas City environment and all it had to offer. He struggled his first year as an undergraduate at Rockhurst because he felt confined in the new city. However, he made a decision that he wasn’t going to be “stuck” and eventually fell in love with the city. Without the ability to drive, Sartorius relied on public transportation and walking to navigate the unfamiliar streets. Maintaining his independence was a large contributing factor in selecting UMKC for law school, and combined with UMKC’s affordability, Sartorius knew it was the school for him.
With his magnifying glass and binoculars, which he carries around in his pockets, Sartorius has navigated life well as a law student. He often begins courses by telling his professors that he is legally blind, giving them the chance to work out any concerns they might have. Throughout his time at UMKC, he says he has never struggled with people just viewing him as his disability; instead, he joked that he’s struggled more with the reliability of Kansas City public transportation.
“I’ve learned that to a large degree, what you think other people are going to think is in your own head. People will know you for your successes in the classroom rather than your disability, and even if they do look at you differently or ask a question, it is an opportunity to educate people around you. Every question answered is an assumption they are not going to make,” said Sartorius.
It’s no surprise that since starting law school three years ago, Sartorius found a natural fit with trial advocacy. While Sartorius says he has never felt discriminated against, he always felt that when going up against big companies and the government, it is easy to think that a person can’t really do much. Through his studies, Sartorius has learned that there are laws out there to help people with disabilities and through the trial advocacy program at UMKC, he’s learned how to go about enforcing them and helping clients.
“I learned that by just telling the client’s story, you can make a huge impact. It’s all about listening to the story and letting them know they can be heard,” said Sartorius.
Sartorius plans on making a career out of telling clients’ stories. He’s currently studying for the Missouri bar and will be interning this September at the Trial Lawyers College, which is a program for practicing attorneys to develop trial skills. He won’t forget how he got to this point though.
“UMKC is full of people I can count on. Not just the professors but fellow students as well,” said Sartorius. “I’ve loved my experience here and definitely made the best choice for law school.”