Oct 2016 The Law Report

Rania SaabRania Saab, a Sydney lawyer who works in the Family Court, was born with hearing loss. She believes discrimination against hard of hearing people is rife in the legal system. In one example, which she has never spoken about publicly before, Ms Saab, then eight months pregnant, appeared in front of a judge who knew she was deaf. She was representing a hard of hearing client in a custody battle. "The judge continually expressed a concern about my client's hearing impairment," Ms Saab said. "His only concern throughout the hearing was how could my client parent this child on his own given that he had a hearing impairment.

"It was a slap in the face for me because there I was about to become a first-time mother. It devastated me. I cried for weeks about it, I really really took it personally. Basically the message I was getting is that deaf people can't parent their children properly." According to Ms Saab, that incident and the recent High Court ruling against a deaf woman who
wanted to serve on a jury reflect a much wider problem in the court system. "I think it just confirms Australia's position with respect to people with disability," said Ms Saab. "The exclusion of people with disability from jury service means that juries are not being comprised of the full diversity of our community. The message that the Australian court and the government is
sending to the Australian people is that we decide on what terms you participate in our society if
you have a disability."

In order to do her job, Ms Saab uses a personal link that relays the sound of the courtroom directly into her hearing aid. Even though the system already exists in the courtroom, it needs to be set up for Saab to use. "I kept coming up against staff who didn't want to, for one reason or another, give me the device," she said. "On one occasion I was forced to appear before the judge without the device. I had to explain to the judge in front of a full courtroom, including my client, that I was not able to hear him because the device hadn't been made available to me. By that stage I was fed up with the courtroom knowing my personal business; it's no one's business that I can't hear as well as everybody else”.

Ms Saab told The Law Report it is other people's attitudes, rather than her hearing loss, that have caused her the most problems in life. "I keep getting told as a lawyer, 'good on you for becoming a solicitor even though you're deaf. The problem isn't that I'm deaf — the problem never has been that I'm deaf. The problem is that our society is not built to accommodate people with disabilities. It's not that I overcame my disability; it's that I overcame the prejudices and the non-willingness to enable me to participate equally to get the education same as my non-hearing impaired peers.”