Video series lets others hear attorney’s story

Lorin MacDonald simply wants you to listen.

MacDonald (JD’09), has been updating attitudes about hearing impairment and accessibility for all forms of disability in legal circles and the community.

“A lot of it has to do with perception of what people with disabilities can and cannot do,” MacDonald said. “For the most part, people appreciate a career in law is difficult anyway, and there is an extra level of respect that’s accorded when they find out you have a disability and you’re a lawyer. They understand that poses more difficulty for you than otherwise may exist.

“I’m all about trying to let people understand it’s only a big deal if you make it a big deal and really the biggest barrier of all is attitude.”

MacDonald has profound hearing loss, wearing a hearing aid only in her right ear, as her left ear isn’t helped by the device.

When the Ministry of Community and Social Services went looking for someone to feature in a new video campaign about accessibility for the hearing-impaired, they found MacDonald, who, since being called to the bar in 2010, has been an associate lawyer with the London firm of Cohen Highley LLP.

“I didn’t want a triumph-over-adversity, against-all-odds kind of video, and they said I would have free reign over it,” she said

The video was partly shot in a London courtroom where MacDonald demonstrated her use of communications assisted real-time transcription (CART) during proceedings in front of Justice Kathleen McGowan (LLB’75), who is also hearing impaired.

CART facilitates an almost instantaneous transfer of proceedings from shorthand to English. The words appear on a laptop used by MacDonald so she can follow arguments and testimony without missing – or mishearing – what is said.

Another scene in the video takes McDonald to London’s Grand Theatre, where she was instrumental in having hearing loops installed to improve sound for patrons wearing hearing aids or with cochlear implants.

“We need to have the conversation among ourselves,” she said. “We are all in this together. Sooner or later, we’ll all be touched by disability, even if it’s not ourselves, someone we love will have a disability, a close friend, a relative. It’s become more and more prevalent with the aging of our population.

“The big part is changing the paradigm and having that conversation that it’s not that unusual. It’s a culture shift that has to happen.”

MacDonald’s role in advocacy pre-dates her career as an attorney.

Diagnosed with a profound hearing loss at age 3, she has contributed to many charities and organizations since she was a teen, including more than 20 years as a volunteer with the Canadian Hearing Society and later with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, Customer Service Standard and Accessibility Standards Advisory Council.

While a student at Western, MacDonald sat on committees working to make the campus more accessible, examining everything from captioning services and accommodations for classrooms and exams to elevators.

In 2004, she helped organize a forum at King’s University College to help the provincial government prepare the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act – an act MacDonald describes as being born in London at the King’s conference.

“Whenever I was dealing with something at the university, I didn’t want it dealt with just on a personal level,” she said. “I would want to see a policy change, so that moving forward whoever came after me wasn’t going to have to deal with this again because systemic changes need to happen to address the barriers that are in place.”

MacDonald enrolled at Western as a mature student after she was hit by a car and injuries left her unable to continue running her business, Printed Word, in Port Dover. Her attorney suggested a second career in law; so she began her training for a new career at a time when many might be thinking about how to scale back.

MacDonald is also a cancer survivor having been diagnosed during her first year at law school. Seven years later, at age 49, she has a clean bill of health and, despite not craving to be in the limelight, finds herself increasingly so through her community engagement, volunteerism and legal work.

A 2012 Order of Ontario nominee, MacDonald’s list of honours also includes the City of London Mayor’s New Year’s Honour List in 2006, the Disability Advancement Award from the Western student council, also in 2006, and the Mary Warner Prize in Human Rights, presented by the Faculty of Law in 2007.