Thomas C. Baird 2015-06-30 09:51:45
DURING MY LATE TEENS, IN THE EARLY ‘70S, I WAS DIAGNOSED WITH RETINITIS PIGMENTOSA, A HEREDITARY EYE DISEASE THAT CAUSED ME TO GRADUALLY GO BLIND. The Americans with Disabilities Act was not signed into law until 1990, but fortunately, I had parents with strong work ethics who would not allow me to let this adversity stop me from pursuing my dream of practicing law. They encouraged me to be more focused, work harder, and be more innovative. In college, I used readers to recite my textbooks to me. In law school, my tomes were on reel-to-reel tapes, and readers assisted with specialized materials and legal research. Upon graduating from the University of Texas School of Law, I interviewed with many different firms, government agencies, and charitable organizations. I quickly realized that these organizations had no real interest in hiring a blind lawyer. They had no confidence that I could practice law when I could not see. I went back to my hometown, opened my own practice, and began waiting for clients to beat my door down. However, many potential customers also did not believe that a blind lawyer could represent them adequately. But for those who gave me a chance, I was determined to provide high-quality legal representation. I came to the office early and stayed late. My staff assisted me in reading my mail and case and legal documents. Over time, I was able to prove that I could represent clients well and that I had a genuine interest in solving their problems. As time passed, technology began to explode. Word processors, computers, software, cellphones, and electronic gadgets of all types evolved and greatly assisted me in my law practice. And I was an eager early adopter of these new technological developments. I now have many talking devices—watch, calculator, laptop, cellphone. I am able to use programs that convert text to speech and dictation software that converts speech to text. Because of this, I am able to do legal research and navigate the Web without the assistance of others. Through various tools, I can listen to cases, legal documents, correspondence, and CLE articles. These new devices and technologies have enabled me to represent my clients better, more quickly, with a higher level of professionalism, and often with excellent results on their behalf. The technological world has certainly changed for everyone, but specifically so for the visually impaired. You just need to be willing to change and willing to learn. Do I still need more help from my staff than most attorneys? Yes, there are tasks that are still beyond technology. Whatever the physical disability, you cannot rely on gadgets alone. It is important to surround yourself with people who believe in you and in your abilities—and not those who are focused on your disabilities. My practice has grown to encompass a small firm of 10-plus lawyers. The key to my success as an attorney and in representing clients well is a combination of the understanding and flexibility of my co-shareholders and co-workers. They instinctively help and assist me with those tasks that I normally cannot do on my own, and they have given me wide latitude to practice law a little differently by allowing me to try out and adapt new devices and software in our firm’s practice and to make reasonable accommodations in the firm’s working environment. Often the unknown is the biggest challenge—for the person with the disability and for those with whom he or she is seeking employment. The ADA has helped to lessen that challenge. Many think of the ADA as just a guideline against discrimination, but in reality, the mere enactment of the ADA represents a change in attitude toward disabilities and a more natural acceptance of disabled persons in the workforce. That is the greatest effect of the ADA on my life—the change in the average person’s perception of the abilities of those who have a physical disability. I have come to realize that any person who has a disability can be a productive member of society when given a chance and the proper tools, and if both the person and his or her employers are willing to adapt and change how they do things. THOMAS C. BAIRD is a fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and is certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in estate planning and probate, commercial real estate, farm and ranch real estate, and residential real estate. He is an author and frequent speaker on various CLE topics.
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/A+Long+Journey/2045316/264105/article.html.