You only have to spend a few moments with Nash Attorney Amy Altbach to discover what drives her. As an Intake Attorney, she spends most of her days talking with clients to determine whether or not Nash Disability Law can help them with their disability claims. “I LOVE our clients,” she says with obvious enthusiasm. “It is truly our clients that motivate me every day, and why I do what I do.”
“I’m passionate about being an attorney, particularly when I am able to help individuals with developmental disabilities.” Amy says. “They have limited ability to express or advocate for themselves. They may have been disabled their entire life, but no one wants to give up hope, and say you’re ‘disabled.’ Yet, they need the resources of disability benefits so they can live their life in a way that enables self-respect and self-esteem.”
Amy has been with Nash Disability Law since 1997 (only Tom Nash has been with the firm longer). In those 19 years, she has taken on every attorney function in the office: hearings, case management, and intake. Clearly she “knows the ropes” of Social Security Disability. She is also NDL’s lead attorney for childhood Supplemental Security Income (SSI) cases.
“In far too many cases children and young adults with developmental disabilities have no one advocating for them”, she explains. “For years, no one in Chicago would take the kids’ cases. I think moms were perceived as difficult and demanding. But, how do you blame them? They have to beg everyone to help their child— whether it’s the pediatrician for the referral, the school system for special services, or a daycare center or a babysitter to watch their child so mom can work. And they have to do all of this despite their child’s difficulties with behavior or social skills.”
“The Social Security Administration (SSA) can also be indifferent. Many SSA Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) show little interest in reviewing educational records like Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and speech evaluations. An ALJ may even suggest they know more than a Developmental Pediatrician. For example, an ALJ can lean toward denying a claim because a child diagnosed with autism is able to answer a question or two in a hearing room. ‘What is your favorite TV show?’ the ALJ may ask. And the child may respond: ‘Sponge Bob’. ‘Well’, the ALJ says, ‘clearly the child can talk, and has adequate social skills.’ It is my job to spell out the case for the judge,” Amy continues.
“I think being a mom has really helped me become a better advocate for my clients,” Amy observes. Recently remarried, Amy was for some time the single parent of two boys who are now 6 and 11. “I get it, and I see how challenging Chicago is, in the best of circumstances. I know how fortunate I am, and it is still a struggle many days. I’m passionate about the law and passionate about being a mom. My children, my family and being part of a community run deep with me.”
Amy wades into supporting the community with her characteristic zeal. Currently, she is a donor and volunteer at Keshet, a remarkable Chicago program for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Its mission is to do whatever is necessary to allow individuals with disabilities to achieve their potential. They have educational programs, recreational programs, and residential programs. “It’s a great organization” Amy says, “and it helps many children to be able to participate with their peers rather being in a separate classroom or camp program.”
She also gives time and money to Tikvah (a division of Camp Ramah). Tikvah means “hope” in Hebrew and was developed in 1973 to provide inclusion opportunities for children with learning, social, and communication difficulties. They also have a vocational program in the summer for young adults. Amy says, “This past summer I went up to the camp to see the program in action, and as a 16 year-old I was a Counselor in Training for a group of 8 girls in the Tikvah program.”
A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, Amy grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. “I’m a huge Cubs fan—but who isn’t these days,” she says with a laugh. “The Cubs feeder team is in Iowa so I have always been a Cubs fan.”
But in any conversation with Amy it doesn’t take long to circle back to the law. “My father was a surgeon and I think I got my passion from him,” Amy says. “He always told me it’s important to love what you do and though I’m not fixing medical problems, I do feel like I’m helping people in a similar way. I love learning about our clients, who they are, what is wrong, and how did they get here. I like being a lawyer and figuring out what SSA is missing so we can devise the best strategy and hopefully to get SSA to approve the claim. I like that I’m doing something meaningful and tangible as an attorney—helping people and making a difference in their lives, so they can have some dignity, respect, and independence.”