What inspired you to become a barrister?

There are two types of lawyers in the UK, the first is a Solicitor and the second a Barrister. A Solicitor is responsible for preparing the case file, interviewing the witnesses, and gathering supporting documents to assist in the trial. This case bundle is then given to the Barrister who has the responsibility of standing up in court and addressing the judge and jury. I have always enjoyed public speaking and use to take part in as many engagements as possible in school and during my time at my different universities. I think that some parts of public speaking are easier to me as I do not have to worry about making eye contact. Of course, I am aware that there are ĎXí number of people in the room who are obviously all listening to me speak but this has never phased me. This is why I wanted to pursue the Bar and become a barrister.

Tell us about your visual impairment and how it has affected you in your life?

I am visually impaired, partially sighted, severely sighted impaired and lastly legally blind. This means that I do not have enough eyesight in legal terms and am classed as blind. My eyesight cannot be corrected by glasses and doctors do not know what has caused my sight loss, or whether there is a cure, so I am a bit of a medical marvel. A demonstration which often assists people in understanding how much I can see is as follows: cover your right eye with your right hand completely and then cover your left eye with your left hand but leave a little gap between your two middle fingers on your left hand. That is sort of how much I can see, but most likely even less.

My eyesight has been the same since I was young and because I can see a little, it wasnít picked up until I was about 3 years old. I was living with my Nana Abu my mumís dad at the time in Pakistan where I had dropped my lunch money on the floor. As we know, floors in Pakistan are somewhat stunning and full of beautiful designs and colours. This made it harder for me to find my money, so I was sitting there trying to reach for it with my hand. It is here that my Nana Abu was observing me and noticed that I was struggling even though the money was right in front of me. I was then taken to the hospital and confirmed that there is something at play which should be looked into in the UK. My mum/family has also been tested and this is not genetic. I am the only one who is visually impaired at home.

During school, I struggled with my identity as a disabled person because even though I am blind I do have some sight. It is important to say here that blindness is a spectrum, most blind people can see something. I was often bullied at school as people thought that I was faking being blind because I was doing better than them in class. This was very upsetting to here as a 16-year-old where you are already trying to fit in.

But it was a few years later that I finally accepted my disability in its fullest and started to use my white cane. I was afraid to use this at first because you donít really see many hijabi white cane users around and thatís because disability is a topic which is not addressed in our community. Itís just not addressed. However, I soon learned that people are going to talk no matter what you do, the least I can do is make life easier for myself. So, I took the decision a few years back to use my cane full time and to use my social media to raise awareness about my difficulties. I only do this in an educational capacity, and I never ever thought that so many people would reach out. I am very grateful that I have reached so many people, but my intentions were to simply document my life on my social media as you do!

What barriers/bias have you faced as a Pakistani woman with a visual impairment in your career?

I think the biggest barrier is that there is not enough representation. There was no one that I could look up to as a Muslim, British Pakistani, blind woman. I think itís more down to culture from the Pakistani community than anything else. People do not talk about disability; they think it does not exist. By doing this you are silencing the disabled person who has their own aspirations. This then means that people like me who are growing up looking for someone to talk to have no one and often have to be the first which I have no problem with doing. The reason I started being more vocal is so that someone growing up can at least see that yes, there is representation out there.

What advice would you give to other women who are facing barriers in their careers?

Donít hide from your disability or whatever challenge you have. Accept it and try to find a solution which is practical to your situation. In the words of retired blind judge John Lafferty, everyone has challenges but finding a solution for those challenges is halfway closer to solving the problem!

What was your dream career/aspiration as a child?

I wanted to be a fashion designer. I was told that I donít have enough eyesight, but I did not believe them. I even went as far as going to a university to look at the course. Although the course convener was quite blunt and I found her a bit rude, she told me what I needed to hear. The course cannot be re-designed for me. That would amount to a different degree and thatís not what they are offering. I was very upset by this news at the time, but it came at the right time because I needed to get this out of my system so that I could look for more practical options. So, I chose an equally difficult course, law!

If you were not a barrister, what would you want to be?

I think I would still be doing some sort of advocacy/public speaking type work because I enjoy delivering speeches and speaking engagements.

Who was your role model when you were growing up and why?

As mentioned above, there wasnít one. Which is why I decided to be more public so that anyone in my position in the future at least can see some representation.

Just for fun- If you were a chocolate, what chocolate would you be?

I have the biggest sweet tooth, so I would be all the chocolates combined into one big huge mega chocolate!

If you had one piece of legal advice to give to Muslim women, what would it be and why?

I am not a practising barrister yet so I will not give legal advice. However, my one main piece of advice for Muslim women who are facing challenges, may that be a disability or a personal challenge, is that you are often not alone - speak out, reach out, look for help. Be confident enough to accept that you have a challenge and try work towards a solution/work around. Do not give up despite what society says. Do not give in. Do not stand down. Do not be quiet. My mum has always taught me and my siblings to learn how to stand on our own feet and the older I get, this resonates with me more.

What is your goal in 10 yearsí time? What would you like to achieve?

Currently I am an unregistered barrister, in order to become a registered barrister, I need a pupillage which is a year long training contract. I was not successful this year so I will apply again next year and iníshaíAllah continue to apply until I am offered one. It is tough, but my time will come, itís just the way it is. After I have successfully obtained a pupillage, I would like to have a successful career as a criminal barrister as well as maintaining my current priorities. IníshaíAllah.

Tell us about your podcast initiative and how we can access it.

A friend of mine and I set up a podcast series called Disabilityís Not A Bar where we interview disabled aspiring barristers, practising barristers and members of the judiciary with a disability. We set this up because again, when we were doing our research at the start of our legal journeyís, we did not have this help available so we hope that it works as a bank of information that those starting off to be barristers can look at as well as those who may have a disabled barrister joining them so they can use the podcast as a learning tool. The podcast has really taken off and it was even picked up by The Times! Episode one is about my story and in episode 2 I interview my co-host about her journey to the Bar as a disabled barrister. We then have various guests ranging from aspiring barristers, pupil barristers, junior barristers and judges who share their story about their journey to the Bar with a disability. You can access it on whichever streaming site you use.

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