My name is Avesta Alani, and I am a 2L at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Ontario. This year, I serve as a Dean’s Fellow, and participate on the International Public Law Jessup Cup (Mooting?) Moot Court Team. As am a member of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind’s National Youth Council, I advocate for fewer barriers for and empowerment of people with disabilities. I have written a book, Diffability: The Liberation of Potential, which discusses common misconceptions about disability and how to overcome them. My visual impairment does not mean that I cannot do things, but rather that I simply do things differently---honestly, sometimes even better. The book will be published this year.
Questions and Answers:
What is your disability? How does it affect you as a law student (and future lawyer)?
My visual impairment makes it difficult for me to see the board during class, and to read textbooks and other hard-copy class materials. Even small things like using a photocopy machine can be challenging. In my future profession as a lawyer, I will not be able to see certain hard copies of forms and paperwork, and electronic files must be accessible for persons with disabilities. However, these are not barriers to my success; they are simply obstacles that challenge me to be innovative and proactive.
What accommodations do you use in law school?
I request that books and other class materials be made available in an accessible electronic format. That way I can use my computer reader to do the bulk of my reading. I have been granted extra time as an accommodation, but do not use this accommodation often as I am generally efficient, and otherwise able to compensate. The key is being creative, efficient, and resourceful; once these skills are developed, one can thrive with any disability.
Do you disclose your disability to colleagues or potential employers? Why or why not?
I disclose my disability to employers and colleagues because I want to work for an employer that believes I am capable, and therefore is committed to providing me with what I need to perform at my very best. I tell employers what my disability is and what challenges I encounter, and suggest what I need to overcome those challenges.
Why did you decide to become a lawyer? Did your disability have an impact on your decision?
I decided to become a lawyer because I wanted a job that provided some structure and would allow me to meet people, think analytically, and make an impact on society. I love economics, business, and investing, so working in international investment, antitrust, or international private law seems like the perfect fit for me. My visual impairment is a part of me, but does not guide the decisions I make.
Have you decided what type of legal work you will do after graduation? If so, how did you decide?
I want to work for a full-service firm, so that I can gain a better understanding of work in the different fields of private practice. I think that the experience in large law firms is invaluable, and that I can really grow as a young professional there.
What advice would you give to law students with a disability?
Try to look at the law school experience as a way to challenge yourself to be a more innovative, diligent, and motivational version of yourself. Having a disability by no means indicates that you will be less successful. Learning to manage law school with a disability gives you skills that can help you become very valuable in the profession.
Become a self-advocate when working with your disability services office, make sure you communicate with your professors, and have a working understanding of how to use technology to your advantage. Keep on top of your work, and you should do great. There will be hiccups and periods of stress, but ultimately law school is a growing experience that makes you a stronger, more capable person.
How do you think the legal profession is doing in creating a diverse and inclusive environment for persons with disabilities? What could be improved?
I think the profession struggles with diversity, especially with regard to people with disabilities. However, I believe this reflects the lack of diversity of law school applicants. Law schools and legal employers should make a concerted effort to recruit and hire people with disabilities. Although more is being done to foster diversity, the profession is far from reflecting the general population.
Tell us about your internship at Pearson Education this summer.
I loved traveling to the US and working with Pearson. The firm was very open to my needs and committed to creating a welcoming, accessible environment. I was assigned a variety of legal work to do, including intellectual property, data privacy, contracts, antitrust, litigation, and copyright work. I grew as an individual. My internship was a great start to what will hopefully be a fruitful legal career.
Did you have a mentor at Pearson?
I did. She was a wonderful source of advice and confidence. The fact that she did not have a disability herself helped us both grow. We shared our different perspectives. After some time at Pearson I grew to have many informal mentors, such as my supervisor. I continue to seek advice and guidance from my mentors. We have become great friends.