Devilling but not bedeviled
Fionnuala Murphy recently spoke to barrister Martin Gordon about how blindness has affected his chosen career path and found that, in fact, blindness has had little of no impact on Martin’s education or employment opportunities, unless perhaps, to have ensured that he is driven and seems totally unflappable.
26-year-old Sligo native Martin Gordon is currently working as a second year barrister in Dublin and believes that he has already overcome one of the biggest obstacles he will ever have to face — losing his sight 10 years ago.
Although Martin was born with glaucoma, he didn’t lose his sight totally until he was 17 and in school. This, he believes, made him face all his challenges at once – from coming to terms with his blindness, to using a cane, working with a guide dog and learning to use technology in a new way. But the development of all of these skills ensured that Martin was ready to pursue his desired career.
Show people your ability
“I learned all those important skills 10 years ago and I can do all of that now so it’s not an issue. People often say ‘but you’re blind’, wondering how it is that I can do certain things. Once you show people your ability and show then how you do it that ‘but you’re blind’ statement is gone. We are all guilty of making assumptions about people and we are all here to teach each other,” says Gordon.
His interest in law, politics and economics while at school was narrowed down to law while at NUI Galway, where Martin achieved his BA, before going on to study an LLM in legal studies in Trinity College Dublin. Disability support was offered in NUI Galway and in Trinity, although by the time he got to Trinity, Martin found he needed less support.
“I got very good support in NUI Galway, I had assistance from a PA, all documents were scanned in, the support was excellent. I had a similar experience in Trinity but I was only there for one year and I was more capable of doing things myself at that stage. I had a couple of negative experiences along the way when it came to disability support but nothing worth focusing on. As my education progressed I found that I needed less support with IT and mobility,” Gordon explains.
Martin then went through what is called devilling, which is a period of training undertaken by barristers, where the ‘devil’ or newly qualified barrister, works for a senior barrister, known as a ‘master’ for a period of one year. All barristers are self-employed.
Big advocate of long cane skills
Even navigating a new place fails to faze Martin, who is a guide dog owner but also uses a long cane. “I was used to travelling up to Dublin to visit family and friends and for rugby matches so when I came to Trinity I was pretty familiar with the city. I had no mobility problems when I was in college. I got my first guide dog when I was in school and I’m on my second dog now but I’m a big advocate of long cane skills too. At work I leave the dog at the desk as there are lots of obstacles and people all over the place so the long cane is better for me. I would never be without my cane. I’ve moved a couple of times since I came to Dublin so each time I have to learn new routes but I’m pretty adventurous. I found a LUAS stop I hadn’t been to before recently. I just took a chance and I got lucky. Once you have a few routes you just get on with it, if you get lost you won’t be too far away.”
Martin commends the Bar Council, who he says have been “outstanding” in accommodating him, ensuring that he has his own desk (which second years wouldn’t normally have) and ensuring that he has full access to IT services and support. NCBI has also assisted Martin with developing IT skills recently. “It was good to do some IT training with NCBI recently because I didn’t have time to do it before. I have to do everything on my own and I am totally self sufficient when it comes to IT, which is all thanks to Sharon Lyons at NCBI,” according to Martin.
Martin’s positive attitude has undoubtedly helped him to achieve his goal of becoming a barrister and it, along with his determination and ambition, will stand to him as he progresses his career.