CHICAGO (WLS) — Being an attorney is challenging enough, but imagine practicing law when you’re deaf or hard of hearing.
Some local lawyers have not only taken on that challenge, but they are now thriving in the legal system. Recently they reached a major milestone and their achievement is making us Chicago Proud.
It’s something not every attorney is allowed to do, try cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. But some Chicago lawyers are now among that esteemed group. They are not letting the fact that they are deaf or hearing hold them back.
Azeema Akram is an administrative law judge at the Illinois Commerce Commission. She’s also hard of hearing and diagnosed when she was three.
“Law school was one of the hardest things that I had to do,” Akram said. “I know it’s hard for everyone that goes through it, but I had that added challenge of trying to get to hear information that I just couldn’t.”
Now it’s all paid off. Last week the DePaul graduate was one of ten deaf and hard of hearing attorneys from across the country sworn into the U.S. Supreme Court Bar Association. She can now argue cases before the nation’s highest court.
“It’s not something I ever thought would happen and I never knew up until last year that there was a Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association and that there were others attorney’s like me, other attorneys in the same boat,” Akram said.
It’s a feeling Rachel Arfa knows very well. She was in the first group of deaf and hard of hearing attorneys sworn in before the Supreme Court. The Chicago disability rights attorney is national president of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association. She’s been practicing for twelve years now.
“My first case I had to advocate for my client but at the same time I had to make a motion so that my accommodations in the court would be approved, because that, itself was a battle too,” Arfa said.
Rachel made the actual motion before the justices in Washington to admit Azeema’s class into the Supreme Court Bar, something she could not have imagined as a child.
“I never would have dreamed that one day I would grow up to have the opportunity to argue a motion in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and represent other deaf and hard of hearing attorneys,” Rachel said. “My 13-year-old self would never had believed that was possible, but I made it possible.”
For Azeema, the entire experience still hard to believe.
“I nerded out a little bit as an attorney to actually get to see the nine Supreme Court Justices do their thing on the bench. That was amazing for me,” Azeema said.
Chief Justice John Roberts actually used American Sign Language when he swore-in this new class of attorneys.
We are told there are about 350 members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association in the United States.
They will be holding their national convention in June 2020 right here in Chicago.