You Should Know … Marissa Ditkowsky

Marissa Ditkowsky, dressed in a business suit, crosses her arms and smiles in this portrait shot.
(Photo courtesy of Marissa Ditkowsky)

Marissa Ditkowsky is a staff attorney at Tzedek DC, a nonprofit that assists low-income residents with illegal or abusive debt collection practices and consumer problems. There, she leads its disabilities community project, and focuses on the unique situations disabled people face regarding debt collection and consumer issues. Ditkowsky, 28, has been diagnosed with myotonic dystrophy type 2, which she described as a form of muscular dystrophy that can lead to the dysfunction of bodily systems and the weakening of muscles.

A resident of Silver Spring, Ditkowsky grew up in Commack, N.Y., where she attended Temple Beth David. She has a law degree from American University. In June, she was one of 18 Jews under 40 honored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington as a Capital Chai for making the world a better place.

What drew you toward disability law?

I was drawn [to this work], largely because I am disabled. A lot of my life, I’ve had to advocate for myself, and had to deal with things that were not acceptable, or needed accommodations that I had to fight for. And so, establishing a world that is better for everyone else than it was for me is kind of what drives me.

What are some of your day-to-day responsibilities?

A lot of it is direct legal services, where I’ll help folks dealing with consumer and debt issues of all different types, whether that’s student debt or credit card debt or a car loan or anything like that. We also deal with folks who are victims of crime who have, maybe, been the victim of a scam, or abuse by even a family member.

We also do community outreach and education. So I’ll do “know your rights” presentations, presentations to other organizations and attorneys about how to spot these kinds of issues and provide adequate and appropriate representation.

What have been some of your favorite moments in your position?

I think that my favorite professional moments are being able to help someone to make their life easier, especially folks going through the same things that I did. I’ll talk to disabled law students, or folks who are recent graduates who are about to take the bar exam, and I’ll be able to talk them through things or help them through things or guide them. And I think just being able to do that and having that experience and being able to make their lives easier as they go through that, is my favorite part.

Are there any exciting side projects you are working on?

In my volunteer capacity, I help to lead The National Disabled Law Students Association, which focuses on making sure the legal profession is more accessible and inclusive for disabled law students and early career attorneys. …

Right now, [I’m] working on trying to create an organization for disabled legal professionals, not just law students, trying to make sure that the legal profession and law school and academia is inclusive and accessible for everyone.

You were one of 18 individuals to receive a Capital Chai award from The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. How did it feel to be recognized like that?

It was really an honor, especially to be in community with so many amazing folks, some of whom I have looked up to and respected for a while.

What does your Jewish identity mean to you?

I think a lot of it is helping me to maintain a spiritual center. To sort of ground me, in a way. When I was at Temple Beth David, I used to fill in for my cantor over the summer when she would take off or be on vacation or away. … And I just connected so much with the music and what I was singing. …

And I think that having that in your life is just very grounding, and it can remind you of what’s important, and bring you a community.

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