Justice is Blind

Justice is Blind

The population of deaf Americans is vastly underrepresented in the legal profession: with about 10 million hard of hearing adults and another 1 million functionally deaf individuals, only about 200 deaf attorneys practice in the U.S. One of these is Jared Allebest, a Salt Lake City lawyer who has overcome odds and a disability to represent the deaf community in the courtroom.

The obstacles for a deaf attorney abound, and even legal terminology seems to poke fun at the deaf community – There are legal ‘hearings’ in courtrooms, juries ‘hear’ evidence, but they can’t accept ‘hearsay’ and a trial doesn’t even begin until the bailiff utters the cry: Hear ye, hear ye! Only recently was the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association created as a resource for lawyers, students and judges. Allebest, the deaf Salt Lake City lawyer, says that it hasn’t held him back. When he had difficulty finding employment, he realized that he had a specific skill and could fulfill a niche opportunity to represent other deaf individuals.

Oftentimes the deaf community is silenced—no pun intended—or made invisible by their disability. Unlike blindness or physical disfiguration, deaf people can, in many ways, operate in much of the way mainstream culture does. Allebest, for example, didn’t even learn sign language until high school instead preferring to speak and lip read. In the courtroom, too, he only uses sign language interpreters to hear testimony and speak his arguments to the court vocally.

But deaf Americans are disadvantaged, and this deaf Salt Lake City lawyer’s cases can quickly illustrate how. One deaf college student was charged with disorderly conduct, but when he requested a meeting with an administrator, he wasn’t provided an interpreter. His meeting devolved into frustration, and because deaf people rely on facial expressions and animation to help them communicate, the student was making loud noises, pounding his fist and yelling in an attempt to convey his message. The campus administrators saw it as an act of aggression and called the police.

As a deaf attorney, practicing law is challenging, but the gutsy and determined lawyer remains undaunted. Allebest has hard-won empathy and compassion for people with disabilities, due in part to his own experience with childhood peers teasing him and excluding him because of his lack of hearing. Now, as he looks back, he realizes that those behaviors stem from ignorance and a lack of experience with people who live with differences. And now, this Salt Lake City lawyer wants to serve people living with those differences and disabilities, all while utilizing his own. A teacher at Utah Valley University, Allebest provides pro bono counsel at a Taylorsville community deaf center and also works as an advocate for bringing public facilities into compliance with the American Disabilities Act. With an interest in acting, he’s been an extra in films and striving to land additional acting gigs.

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