November 29, 2016 Chair's Column

Personal Stories of Professionals With Disabilities

The Hon. William D. Missouri

The larger community in which we live is composed of many smaller communities. Among the groups that comprise our larger community, we find citizens who live with disabilities. Most of the members who belong to that group would not be recognized as having a disability. In this edition of Voice of Experience (VOE) we are favored with the stories of four senior members who live with disabilities. We’re presenting four articles from people who practice law as attorneys or judges, and they each tell unique stories of how their own disabilities affect their lives and careers. As you’ll see, these are very personal accounts, told by successful members of the ABA who happen to be senior lawyers.

Labeling them with disabilities, though, is not giving due credit to these fantastic attorneys. They are successful attorneys who just happened to have disabilities. The community of people who live with a disability are like any other minority group – they have different perspectives on what it’s like to live with and manage their disability. I have come to realize that most of the time you cannot discern whether one of your fellow citizens is living with a disability. The majority of those who have one or more disabilities are able to function in society without those around them being aware of the individual disability. The four authors in this Voice of Experience edition are giving you some insight into how they live daily with their disability.

For example one of the authors for this issue, Carole Worthington, does not exhibit any outward appearance of being disabled. You would not know about her fight with rheumatoid arthritis unless she told you that she is living with it. She writes about her life as her rheumatoid arthritis grew more painful and more difficult to manage.

Still other members of this month’s group would be recognized as a member of a disabled group. Charles Brown is blind and his blindness is obvious. It’s also obvious that Mr. Brown is an excellent lawyer. He is retired and now works for the National Federation of the Blind, an organization of blind men and women helping each other. Mr. Brown was an effective lawyer prior to his retirement. He writes about how he beat the odds to be a successful attorney, despite the common discrimination against disabled people.

Alan Rachlin is an insurance regulator who is mobility impaired. He has been helped by technology and by working for a government agency.

The Hon. Rick Brown talks about the value of requesting accommodations for his hearing difficulties; he has had a long career as a lawyer and judge.

Before moving from this month’s VOE, I think it well for me to comment on the loss of hearing disability. I am not an expert on deafness, nor have I done scientific studies that would stand scrutiny by the relevant scientific community. But I am an observer of people and I have noticed that people in general fail to respect those who have some hearing loss.

How often have you been in a situation where someone says, “What’s wrong with that guy? Is he deaf?” or “Can’t she understand English?” This occurs when something is said to a person, but the person does not respond. Well, chances are the person did not hear you because he or she has suffered some hearing loss and doesn’t exhibit any appearance of having a disability. This occurs often within the courtroom where lawyers and judges are reluctant to admit that they have hearing loss and will insist that the litigants are speaking too softly. Frankly, we just do not want to admit that we are disabled. It seems that unless we have an obvious disability, we do not wish to admit that there is a loss of hearing. As citizens we should be aware that others in society may have an unseen disability and treat them with courtesy.

The ABA values the inclusion of people with disabilities as part of its ongoing commitment to eliminate bias and enhance diversity within the ABA and the legal community. For example, the ABA has advocated to have more people with disabilities be among nominees to the federal bench. The ABA’s Commission on Disability Rights actively works on behalf of persons with mental, physical, and sensory disabilities.

Next month’s issue of Voice of Experience will take a look at issues surrounding long-term care and assisted living.

Respectfully with best regards,
William D. Missouri, Chair

The Hon. William D. Missouri