A Brief History of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Attorneys

If you are visiting our website, then you probably have an interest in deaf and hard of hearing lawyers. Perhaps you are deaf or hard of hearing and need legal representation. Or perhaps you are, or know of someone who is, deaf or hard of hearing and considering going to law school.

You most likely know that a good number of deaf lawyers exist. But you may not know how they “made it” as lawyers.

In 2011, I published a law review article entitled Breaking the Sound Barriers: How the Americans With Disabilities Act and Technology Have Enabled Deaf Lawyers to Succeed. In the article, I discussed the history of deaf lawyers from the mid-nineteenth century to (then) present-day. While much had been written about individual deaf lawyers prior to that time, no one had pulled together their stories in a single written work. While researching my article, I was struck by how often people discussed their experiences and talked about the same issues they faced. Later, I was equally struck by how often people wrote to me saying “Hey! That happened to me, too!” after they read my article.

Much of the history of deaf and hard of hearing lawyers parallels the history of deaf and hard of hearing people in general. As technology progressed, and as accessibility laws were enacted, the opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing lawyers (and deaf and hard of hearing people in general) increased and the barriers we faced were broken. Understanding how we got to this point is crucial to ensuring that the progress continues.

And progress has continued. When I wrote my article in 2011, there was only a handful of deaf lawyers who were admitted to the United States Supreme Court Bar. Today, there are over thirty. It is only a matter of time before a deaf or hard of hearing lawyer argues a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. In fact, I argued a case before a U.S. Supreme Court justice earlier this year, but it was before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, not the U.S. Supreme Court.

Since my article was published, more stories about our experiences have been written. In 2013, deaf lawyer Gerald Shea wrote his autobiography, Song Without Words: Discovering my Deafness Halfway Through Life. Earlier this year, deaf lawyer Melissa Felder Zappala was featured in the American Bar Association magazine. A little before that, the Utah Deseret News did a profile on Jared Allebest.

Many more stories exist. Perhaps someday I will update my 2011 article to include their stories.

And of course, like every demographic, some deaf lawyers have decided to diversify their legal practice and experiences to include other interests. Such is the case for Melissa Kubit Angelides when she joined the St. John’s University Law School Office of Career Development.

The same is true for Amanda Upson, who is now a film producer.

John Stanton became deaf in early childhood. He graduated from Dartmouth College and from the Georgetown University Law Center. After over a decade working in private practice, he is now an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. He may be contacted at jfstanton2001@yahoo.com.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association (DHHBA). Additionally, this post does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship with anyone. If you need to contact an attorney, please visit our Find A Lawyer page.