1L J.D. student Benjamin M. Reiser was spotlighted by the American Bar Association.
What is your disability? How does it affect you as a law student?
I was born with severe-to-profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. Audiologists said I would never develop meaningful, intelligible speech, and recommended a school for the deaf.
Due to amazing technology, my supportive family, and my commitment to never let my disability define me, my hearing impairment does not keep me from doing too much as a law student. Although listening to others speak in the classroom requires more focus and effort, I remain committed to ensuring that I receive and absorb all the information I can to get the best education possible.
What accommodations do you use at school or in the workplace? Have you encountered any obstacles or challenges from your employers, colleagues, or school in obtaining accommodations?
I am immensely grateful to have attended schools that have supported access to accommodations for my hearing impairment.
Assistive technology has made all the difference in my life, including my education. At the start of each class, my professors clip a small microphone (Phonak) to their shirts that wirelessly transmits their voice to my hearing aid. Part of what makes a legal education so wonderful is being able to listen to a diverse array of opinions about and interpretations of the law. When a professor repeats what a student has said, whether the student is across the classroom or sitting next to me, it’s much easier for me to listen and process the comment.
Why did you decide to become a lawyer? Did your disability influence your decision?
I’ve wanted to be a lawyer since the eighth grade. That year, my social studies class held a mock trial in a case from the Civil Rights Movement. Preparing for the trial—poring over pieces of evidence, developing arguments and rebuttals, practicing how best to articulate my client’s interests—was one of those life moments when everything just clicked. It was profoundly rewarding to think critically about right and wrong and the function of this country’s adjudication systems.
I think a part of me was inspired to become a lawyer to prove that I could overcome the “limits” resulting from my hearing impairment. Despite my disability, I have always been resolute in my aspiration to learn how to use language meaningfully and appropriately, and to sound like my family and friends. Ironically, the communication skills that were expected to be my greatest weaknesses became my very strengths, and are valuable skills for a successful law career.