Amazing and inspirational – the UK’s first female blind law professor

As any law student knows, studying law requires copious amounts of reading, so team that with a student being blind and it is even more of a challenge.

What is remarkable about Anna Lawson is that she did not let this stop her, and her determination to study has also resulted in her now being a professor at Leeds University.  She has been quoted saying “I absolutely love it”, and she teaches disability law and human rights courses.

Many students moan about how heavy and large the textbooks are, and how there is too much reading – but imagine never actually being able to pick up that book or statute, and then read it for yourself.  Or when you have printed out your cases – imagine never being able to highlight or annotate them.  This is a reminder of how we really do take some of the littlest things for granted!

Anna Lawson credits her parents for their extraordinary effort (alongside her local community in North Wales) in ensuring she fulfilled her potential. They invested so much time to enable her to achieve her dreams and be where she is today.

Anna Lawson, 46, went blind as a child and when lots of other learning methods failed, her father, Bruce, a vet, invested in variable speed tape machines, and from then on her parents were her support network.

When Anna was at school, her mother taped all the art based subjects, and her father all the science based ones.  Weekends were spent making tapes to aid her learning. The next challenge was A Levels, as the increase in workload and reading stepped up a notch, but it did enable Anna to develop her research skills.  Whilst studying for her A Levels, Anna’s parents sent tapes, and she spoke her notes into a second machine.

Anna Lawson achieved straight A grade A levels, and deservedly earned her place to read law at Leeds, which had and has a worldwide reputation for facilities for the blind and partially sighted.  One of the benefits of studying at Leeds was that it had a transcription centre where every book, or article she needed was copied for her.  Anna Lawson’s mother was a law graduate herself .

Unfortunately Anna’s sister Jane had also developed the disease, but with the same support that Anna had received secured a place at Cardiff University and graduated, like Anna did, with a first.  The girls chose not to stop there with their academics, and they both went on to further degrees. Anna Lawson undertook a two-year Master’s at Oxford and her sister a Master’s at Cambridge which they both achieved firsts. Though this was by no mean an easy path to success, as the transcription service at Oxford was very small, and Cardiff did not even have one!

It was then when neighbours and those from their village rallied together to help out the girls.   Their mother turned their house into an informal taping service, which saw the family buying 25 tape recorders, and lots of people were dotted around the house taping.  Some even took the tapes home to complete! Special delivery packages arrived every day for the girls with the material that they needed, whole books, some quite weighty and technical. 

The community did not have to help these girls succeed, but they chose to – and that goes to show that some element of community spirit does live on.

Today, taping has ben replaced by digital working, and Anna can now read everything on a computer, as a speech synthesiser reads what is on the screen.  Due to this advance in technology Anna has now thrown away all of her tapes.  Anna also has a personal assistant, and this service funded by the Government’s Access to Work Scheme also scans texts that cannot be easily read, and her partner David (who is an IT specialist) also helps. 

When reading the article about Anna Lawson, she stated that on a conference trip to China (to promote the human rights of people with disabilities) one of the attendee’s asked to feel Anna’s white stick.  “She’d never felt one before. I was quite disturbed by this — it made me realise that we take access to guide dogs, to white canes, for granted.”  As a result of this, Anna has set up a project, to send white canes to a school for blind children outside Beijing – so not only has she achieved so much in her own right, Anna is now helping others growing up like she did – but often without the support of a dedicated family and friends network.

Anna Lawson, noted that  “I feel I have been extremely lucky. There would have been a lot of people more academically able than me but who did not have that luck, thesupport I had — fantastic parents, the community and the right linguistic tools. I’d not have got my degree, or even started it, without that.”  It shows how much she needed the support of the others, but her desire to achieve played a significant role!

How amazing is this woman – to have achieved so much and under the circumstances.  This should be a reminder to most of us, to follow our dreams, work hard and realise that there is always a solution, sometimes you just need to think outside the box – or ask for help! Most of us have our own day to day struggles, but the fact that Anna Lawson has achieved so much despite being blind deserves some recognition.  These are the sort of people we should be looking up to – someone that strives to achieve their dreams and works hard no matter what happens!

Anna is an inspiration and I am so pleased I found this article about her – more students need to be made aware of the remarkable people we have in the profession, as well as the hurdles they have overcome to make them the people they are today.

Next time you think about moaning about a textbook – remember not everyone has the opportunity to even read them!

Rebecca x


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