Yousuf Saleem, first visually impaired judge in Pakistan

The visionary young lawyer has broken stereotypes by becoming Pakistan’s first-ever blind judge

Islamabad: Yousuf Saleem, a visually impaired but visionary young lawyer, has broken stereotypes by becoming Pakistan’s first-ever blind judge.

The 25-year-old took the oath to be sworn in as a civil judge along with 20 others at Punjab Judiciary Academy on June 26.

“I will join the court proceedings as a civil judge on July 1,” Saleem told Gulf News. “After completing the six-month training, I will be an official civil judge.”

This is just the first step for Saleem who dreams of becoming a Supreme Court judge and eventually serve as the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

But it has not been a smooth journey for Yousuf Saleem. Despite being a gold medallist of the Punjab University who had topped the written judiciary exam in 2014, he was first denied the position. However, he was considered for the same post after Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar took notice, and received confirmation letter from Lahore High Court (LHC) on May 21 this year.

Saleem hails from Lahore and is the son of a charted accountant. He has four sisters and two of them are also visually impaired. His sister Saima Saleem became the first visually impaired civil servant in 2007 while the other sister is a university lecturer.

Saleem is visually impaired by birth. He suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, which is a group of rare, genetic disorders that affect the light sensitive parts of the eye. As a child, he could see some vague images but is now progressing towards total blindness over time.

However, the impairment did not stop Saleem from achieving academic and professional accolades. “My family, teachers and above all assistive technology enabled me to continue my studies and achieve my dream,” he said.

Saleem received many congratulatory messages from all over the country after taking oath as a judge. But some questioned how can a blind person accurately perform his duties as a judge.

“Assistive technology (AT) such as screen readers, software programmes and mobile apps help improve my functional capabilities and play a key role in my life,” Saleem explained in an interview with Gulf News.

Assistive technology is any equipment, software programme, or product that is specifically designed to help people with vision loss or other disabilities. It includes everything from screen readers to magnifiers, Braille watches and printers to any electronic device. Saleem frequently uses JAWS, a computer screen reader programme that enables people with vision loss to independently use a computer with a keyboard, speech, or Braille display.

“Now, smartphones have transformed into powerful assistive devices that can read any written document and describe images or surrounding to blind people using Artificial Intelligence (AI).” But he added that human help from colleagues, family and friends is invaluable.

Saleem urges access to assistive technology in Pakistan as it can help promote inclusion and participation for differently-abled persons. He lamented the fact that there is no text-to-speech software in Urdu language which is a hurdle for many.

“These technological tools can help us overcome society’s stereotypes about disabilities,” says the young judge. “With the support of family and help from technology, you can achieve anything.”

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