My name is Riyaz Hazi and I am a dual qualified solicitor and chartered accountant. Being severely visually impaired from birth was naturally a hindrance to entering the legal profession. However, from the age of 10, being a solicitor has been an ambition of mine. I perceived lawyers to be the most intelligent people. In an ideal world, I would have been a pilot – but I do not think that any degree of reasonable adjustments will ever enable a blind individual to do this.
Throughout my academic career, I have always had excellent support. I attended a mainstream state school which had specific services for visually impaired individuals. All the adjustments that I required were implemented without any input from me. When attending university and doing my professional legal and accountancy exams, I was able to detail the specific changes that I required.
Whilst studying, the best advice that I would give to a disabled individual is to detail the changes that are required at the earliest possible opportunity. You may not be the first disabled individual that the institution is dealing with, but the needs of each disabled individual are different. Therefore, the organisation will look for guidance from yourself. Nobody knows more about your disability than you do. If you are able to detail all the reasonable adjustments that you require from the outset, it can engender a degree of confidence in you. It can also help ensure that the adjustments are put in place from the outset, rather than part way through the course. You never want to be playing catch up.
Obtaining work experience proved quite difficult for me. Students undertaking work experience are typically given tasks that are admin orientated. This is natural, as the students do not have the legal knowledge to conduct the actual legal work. However, I did manage to get one local firm to take me on for a couple of years. I explained from the outset that I may find ordinary office tasks such as filing difficult. However, if I was given the opportunity to attend client meetings, I could take notes and conduct basic legal research. When attempting to obtain legal work experience, the best advice that I would give is to highlight the tasks that you can do, not just the ones that you cannot do.
Prior to commencing work at EY and at CMS, I was able to highlight to HR the specific reasonable adjustments that I required. I reached out in good time which resulted in the adjustments being in place ahead of me starting. The best advice that I would give to a disabled individual is to reach out to an employer as soon as possible to detail the changes that are required. Commencing employment without adjustments will place you at a disadvantage and will deprive you the opportunity to make a good first impression.
In 2006, a person with both physical and sensory impairments said to me “The world is designed for able bodied people. Get used to it.” As a disabled individual, you will likely have to work harder than your able bodied counterparts to be seen as the same. It is unfortunate that this is the case – but I cannot see this changing in my lifetime. Never take no for an answer.