What to Know as a Deaf and Hearing-Impaired Law School Applicant

Deaf and Hearing-Impaired Law School

As we emerge into National Deaf History Month, we want to be inclusive and representative of all law school applicants. While there are not many mainstream resources readily made available for hearing-impaired students going to law school, we are here to highlight the few that are. Statistics are challenging to locate as well, but deaf and hearing-impaired students have an important place in the legal profession to represent another minority.

In this post, we will share what to consider beginning the application process, what to look out for starting law school, as well as a few resources available.

What to Consider When Applying to Law School

Starting With Applications

When considering law schools, it is important to consider the best environment suited for you. Your accommodations should be easily accessible and made available while your safety is a priority. A great place to start is LSAC’s Testing Accommodations page. This page discusses policies and guidelines in place for those with disabilities. They provide great articles advising how to send accommodation requests and identify documentation requirements.

Another resource to consider during the application process would be the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association (DHHBA). This non-profit organization is made up of legal professionals that are hearing-impaired at some level, those of which are dedicated to advocating for other deaf and hard-of-hearing students applying to law school. The DHHBA also provides resources for accommodations for law students and opportunities for deaf students to gain employment in the field of law.

Researching Law Schools

Many law schools make their policies public (although you may have to dig). This is a great place to look at their nondiscrimination policies, as well as policies addressing disabilities. If you can’t find a school’s policies, reach out to an admissions officer. You don’t have to tell them what you’re looking for; they should be able to just send you a link or document.  Aside from the law schools themselves, try to look into the area that the law school you’re interested is in. Are policies and laws on the local, regional, and state levels hearing impaired-friendly? This is an important indicator of whether you are supported in that area.

Disclosing Your Disability

While disclosing your disability is 100% up to you, including that you are hearing-impaired or deaf in your admissions statement can offer a unique perspective for admissions officers to consider.

There are numerous circumstances under which you may want to disclose that you are hearing-impaired or deaf. The first is accessibility issues regarding the law school application, visiting campus, or interviews; disclosing can help the admissions office make sure you get the right amount of support and tools to be successful in their admissions process.

You may also mention your disability while creating your narrative for admissions essays. In your personal statement, you could discuss how being vision impaired led you to law school. In a diversity statement, you could explain the strengths and different abilities you have gained while adapting to a seeing-focused society.

However, be sure to avoid trauma-dumping in writing these essays as it relates to your disability. Focusing on trauma can sometimes cause blame shifting or takeaway from you as the spotlight. Your essays should be candidate-centered and focus on you, not what has happened to you. 

Remember, it is not mandatory to disclose your status. What’s most important when it comes to self-disclosing in your essays is that there is a why behind telling the admissions committee. If being deaf or hearing-impaired is the main thing that led you to law school and you feel comfortable and safe sharing, that may be a good “why.” 

Choosing a Law School

We advise you to consider the school’s reputation and statements regarding how they do accommodations. Asking admissions representatives, checking school websites, joining groups such as the Law School Disability Advocacy Coalition on Facebook, and messaging student groups for students with disabilities are all important steps for hearing-impaired students to take in deciding what school to choose. Factoring accommodations and accessibility to resources provided by each law school can influence your decision in choosing where to attend.

What to Consider Once You’re in Law School

Student and Professional Organizations

Like undergraduate institutions, many law schools have plenty of student-run organizations that you can join. Once you get to law school, you should try to get involved in these organizations so you can find a community that supports you. Schools such as Yale offer student organizations like the Disabled Law Students Association (DLSA) which is a community of those with disabilities who work to increase in accessibility for resources as well as seeking cultural competence surrounding stigmas.

Moreover, there are professional organizations in place that offer support, personally and financially, to deaf and hearing-impaired students in law. For example, the National Association of the Deaf offers not only internship opportunities for deaf law students in a multitude of areas, such as federal public policy and state legislative policy, but they also offer scholarship opportunities.

There are also a few scholarship opportunities being offered through websites like AccessLex, such as the George H. Nofer Scholarship for Law and Public Policy. Another great resource that lists out scholarship opportunities for the deaf and hard at hearing is the NYC’s Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities.

Other organizations such as the American Bar Association, the National Disabled Law Students Association (NDLSA), and US News are some resources where you can find general information and terms regarding applying to law school with a disability.

Undergraduate Services

If your law school is connected to a larger university, it is worth seeing if student services available to undergraduate students are also available to professional students. Mental health and wellness support is also very important while in law school, especially if you’re not entirely comfortable in the area or school you ended up in. Some law schools have dedicated mental health services, but many don’t. However, the office that serves undergraduate students may also support professional students. If necessary, be sure to seek these resources out. It is more useful to establish upfront when applying if these services are provided though.

Final Thoughts

For deaf and hearing-impaired students, pursuing a career in law is a viable option. Despite the potential need for additional research compared to other applicants, there are strategies available to ensure that you enter a community that prioritizes your safety and support. While progress may be gradual, law schools and the legal profession are evolving positively to embrace students with diverse backgrounds like yours.