From the age of 10, I knew that I wanted to read law at Cambridge and be a solicitor. Maybe not what a usual 10-year-old aspires to, but I was very determined from the outset.
I grew up in Dewsbury, attended schools that did not stand out on a CV and have been registered blind since birth. I knew that all of this would make it even more difficult for me to enter the legal profession (which is difficult enough to start off with).
Within my family, there is a perception that if you have a disability, you have to be twice as good in order to compete with an able-bodied person. Many people doubted whether my intentions to enter the legal profession were realistic and achievable. However, this made me even more determined to succeed.
Having left school with 13 GCSEs, achieving AAA in my A-levels and having received an interview at Robinson College, Cambridge, everything was going as I planned. However, unfortunately I failed my interview and was rejected from Cambridge. With my grades, I was able to attend my second-choice university.
It took three years and 50 applications to obtain my training contract with CMS in London. Many of the firms that I applied to did not respond – those that did, provided a rejection letter and often stated the lack of work experience as one of the reasons for not being able to progress my application. Despite having a good academic CV, I lacked legal work experience – experience that many others had. When you are applying for unpaid work experience as a student within law firms, you are often expected to do the manual tasks within the office such as photocopying, putting bundles together and filing – something that presents far more difficulties to a person who cannot see.
Given that obtaining legal work experience was proving difficult, I commenced working in my brother’s mobile phone business in between my studies with a view to increasing my commercial knowledge and experience. I hoped that this would differentiate me from my fellow training contract applicants. As the business was undergoing a period of expansion, I assumed responsibility for the opening of the Huddersfield branch. This gave me great practical skills and gave me something unique to discuss on my application forms. This project is something that was discussed during my successful training contract interview and I feel definitely helped me secure the position.
Having completed the training contract, I considered my future options – one of which was to dual qualify as a chartered accountant. Again, I encountered challenges from some people who questioned whether a visually impaired person can be dual qualified. Given that I had proven them wrong once, I was determined to do it again.
I secured a position within EY’s Financial Services Tax team in Leeds in 2015 – where I commenced training as a chartered accountant. I am exam and time qualified – once the necessary documentation has been submitted, I will officially be dual qualified.
As part of becoming a chartered accountant, I was required to take a number of additional exams. Students are permitted to take auditing and accounting rules into the exam – however, I was unable to locate a version of the rules that was compatible with my computer software. Due to my disability, I access everything on computer with the use of screen reading software called JAWS. As a result, I was required to memorise sections of the auditing and accounting rules as well as learn the application of them. This did increase my workload considerably and I was required to work harder than I ever had done – but I got myself through it by thinking – it is the last hurdle. Fortunately I did pass all my exams at the first attempt – though I have vowed never to do an exam again.
Throughout my time in EY, I have been given excellent opportunities, including in 2018, being one of seven individuals in EMEIA seconded to the New York Office, located in Times Square, to work on the FS International Tax Desk. Outside of work, I like to play goalball (a paralympic sport for visually impaired individuals). I was fortunate enough to represent the GB senior men’s squad from the age of 17 and join the under 19’s squad at the age of 12.
My hope is that my story will inspire other blind individuals, showing what can be achieved.
- Do not take no for an answer – being focused and determined to achieve your goals is key;
- Network as much as possible – it is always good to get different perspectives on issues – having a large network helps you to do this;
- Work hard – as a person with a disability, I have felt that I needed to work harder to achieve the same as my able-bodied counterparts; and
- Be grateful to the people who have helped you to get to where you are and aim to help the next generation succeed.
Riyaz Hazi is a tax advisor at EY