President’s Message: Room for missteps, not standstill, on route to accommodation and inclusion

  • June 11, 2024
  • Kelly McDermott

photo of OBA President Kelly McDermottI’ve been fortunate in my role as OBA president to meet people who are true trailblazers – and it’s fair to say I’ve been more than impressed, I’ve been awestruck.

At a recent OBA Speakers Series event, we hosted a remarkable lawyer who lost her sight in a brutal attack and, in a flash of fury  and violence, had her whole life upended. Down-to-earth, funny and thoughtful, Rumana Monzur was frank about the fact she had no choice but to learn how to navigate the world as a blind person; she had a young daughter relying on her. But she could have chosen not to pursue an education that had now become infinitely harder; instead, she completed her master’s, prepared for and passed the LSAT; and graduated from law school. She could have chosen to retire from professional life; instead, she secured an articling position, working at a global firm, and going on to work for the Department of Justice. She could  have chosen to keep quiet about the aftermath of the assault and the obstacles she overcame to create the life she leads now; instead, she shares her story and her successes to both inspire and advocate for those affected by intimate partner violence and people living with disabilities – or different abilities.

You can read here about some of the ingenious, painstaking ways Rumana carved out the path that brought her to where she is today – in her own words – but one thing that really struck a chord with me was the way she talked about the importance of an open mind and empathy and room for mistakes (as long as learning follows) on the route to accommodation, inclusion and accessibility. She was someone (like other lawyers I know, me included) who was not entirely sure what accommodations she needed initially – from her school, employer, or the spaces in which she worked. But she is proof that when there is good faith and follow-through on both sides, solutions are not far behind. For Rumana, it was a process with feedback and fine-tuning. And, because she engaged in that way, she made both the offering of and asking for appropriate accommodations easier for those who followed. A trailblazer.

I know something about having the space, grace and support to generate tools, connections, and initiatives that will bolster meaningful inclusion in this profession. It is a mandate the OBA has long been a leader in advancing, but as a member, volunteer and now president on a PeerLink mission, I’ve experienced time and time again the way this invested and empathetic OBA community engages – as Rumana has – in the process , and never shies away from doing what’s needed to empower lawyers in their lives and careers regardless of how fraught or formidable the task might, at first, appear.

Some exemplary members of that community will be celebrated at the OBA Awards Gala on June 20, where I will also be honoured to bestow the President’s Award upon three lawyers who have set the gold standard in workplace inclusion by creating an environment where lawyers living with disabilities can thrive and shine and not simply adapt. The work that this trio of trailblazers – Thomas G. Conway, Abdalla Barqawi and Mohammed Elshafie – has undertaken, step by step, exemplifies the transformative power of inclusivity and removing barriers to success for all members of our profession.

View the full discussion with Rumana Monzur and author Denise Chong on the OBA’s Lawyers Living with Disabilities Peer Support Network portal.