Focus On

Legally blind lawyer won’t let disability define him as he embarks on new career

Thursday, July 21, 2016 @ 8:00 PM | By Geoff Kirbyson

Dylan Mazur will never be your average lawyer but he’d like you to treat him like one.

The 42-year-old recent graduate of the Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia has between 5 and 10 per cent vision in only one eye and is legally blind.

But he isn’t afraid to address the elephant in the room nor show off his sense of humour.

“I’m a Cyclops,” he says with a laugh.

He says he won’t allow his lack of vision to put him at any disadvantage in a court of law. And don’t let the white cane deceive you, either.

He is proud to say he did the same assignments and was held to the same standards as every one of his classmates and has been a productive member of the workforce for the last 20 years. (His original training was in social work).

“A disability is right there when you start. It’s something I can’t hide and don’t necessarily want to. A lot of other disabilities that people have aren’t visible to somebody else but they come out in their work. Some people are lazy, some don’t have attention to detail, some people have bad judgment and some are unethical. Those are things that impair people’s work,” he says.

“To me, this disability is a trait. It’s a disadvantage, I’ll be honest, as I can’t look up something in a book as quickly as somebody who is fully sighted.”

(He can read in short spurts, but he requires an electronic device to read longer documents).

But what he lacks in vision, he believes he makes up in other ways.

For example, because he needed documents in a different format than the rest of his classmates, he didn’t always get them in a timely manner. Sometimes he had a lot of catching up to do when the electronic version that could be read by his computer would arrive a couple of weeks later.

“It gives you a resourcefulness and a tremendous memory, which is good for being a lawyer, and oral presentation skills, which are good especially if you’re in court or at a tribunal,” he says.

Being visually impaired is a constant challenge which Mazur compares to having a broken leg. “It’s a pain in the ass when you have a shower because you have to put a bag on it and it’s hard to put pants on.” Being visually impaired “is like that but it never heals. But you’ve got to keep on going. Otherwise, it’s too easy to stay in your apartment,” he says.

Mazur first became interested in becoming a lawyer while working with a human rights organization in Mexico in 2009, where he and a colleague established a support program for survivors of torture and political violence. They worked with many lawyers on how to document psychological symptoms of torture for national and international courts.

Law school can be challenging enough on its own but Mazur decided to add to his workload in his second year by tackling the job of executive director of the Vancouver Association for Survivors of Torture, a non-profit organization that works with refugees, including the waves of Syrians who have recently come to Canada.

It’s not something that he could have dabbled at in his little spare time as he had to oversee a budget of more than $400,000 and a staff of four people who serve more than 300 people per year.

“It was supposed to be a part-time gig, 24 hours a week, but it wasn’t. It ended up being more. When you’re the director, you’ve got to be there when things happen,” he says.

Mazur led a dual life, arriving at school in the morning wearing sweats and a backpack and then going home at lunch to put on a shirt and tie so he could go into the office.

“It was like changing my costume midway through the day.

“It was a lot of responsibility in keeping the organization going and tending to school. I can say I’m thoroughly exhausted right now. Maybe it helps to not have a girlfriend,” he says with a laugh.

He will be leaving his job at the end of July to take an articling position with the Community Legal Assistance Society, which specializes in public interest law, as well as mental health, human rights, labour and residential tenancy law.

He says he would like to work with refugees and First Nations people.

Mazur feels he will be able to draw upon his own human rights experiences in his legal career.

“I was always the first visually impaired kid in every school I went to up to university,” he says.

His disability, however, also gave him some invaluable skills that others simply won’t have.

“I’m resourceful and can find ways around things. I can internalize a disability like a lot of people externalize it. That will be to my advantage in being a lawyer,” he says.