“Upon reflection of my journey, I see how I'm exactly where I should be - there are no coincidences in life!”
– Meet WXN member Lorin MacDonald
When they told Lorin MacDonald’s mother that her daughter couldn’t go to public school, her mother enrolled her anyway. When others told her that she shouldn’t become a human rights lawyer, she did it anyway. As a proud Canadian woman born with profound hearing loss, she’s since founded HearVue, a social enterprise that educates organizations about the value of providing real-time captioning for live and virtual events, and continues her fight to create systemic changes in making the country more accessible and inclusive – for everyone.
We sat down and talked about her (extremely) non-linear career path, why Canada needs to do better on inclusivity, what her grandmother taught her about volunteering, what she’s reading and how WXN helped her find her community.
WXN: Why are you passionate about human rights and inclusivity?
Lorin: Inclusion doesn't always include people living with disability. It includes racialized people, Indigenous Peoples, francophones, women and the LGBTQ2S+ community among others, but oftentimes, disability is not factored into that overarching umbrella. I've said for a very long time that disability rights are really the last frontier when it comes to civil rights because, somehow, it's still okay to expect a wheelchair user to go into a restaurant through the back door, through the garbage area, through the kitchen – if they can get in at all! Why is that still acceptable in 2020?
WXN: What was your goal in starting HearVue?
Lorin: I set up my social enterprise last year to have captioning at large live events. I fully funded this with my own money because I wanted to remove the financial barrier experienced by non-profit organizations. I wanted them to try captioning for the first time, knowing that as soon as attendees saw it, the organizations would see the benefits. I carefully selected the organizations, most of which were about women empowerment. WXN was definitely at the top of the list.
It's not just for people living with hearing loss. It's also for English-as-a-second-language learners. It supports people with learning disabilities like ADD – it helps to focus on the words as they appear instead of being overwhelmed by sounds coming in. It supports people with auditory processing disorder – some people don't get information as well hearing it as they do seeing it. It supports people who have hearing loss but don't realize the extent of it until they're at a large event, like Baby Boomers. And then it supports everyone else who, due to poor acoustics in a venue, unfamiliar speech patterns of presenters and distractions, miss something that was said. It supports everyone to have an alternate form of communication available to them and provides much value to event engagement and enjoyment.
WXN: Why did you decide to go back to school and become a lawyer?
Lorin: It's important to understand that for a lot of people living with disability, their career path is not linear because we face a lot of discrimination along the way. In spite of encountering discrimination, I have been fortunate to experience various opportunities – it has been a very interesting path.
I do not believe in coincidences. I believe that there is a path, but it's not known to us. Upon reflection of my journey, I see how I'm exactly where I shouldbe - there are no coincidences in life! For example, while I was engaged in a personal injury lawsuit due to a car accident in 1997, my lawyer said to me, “You've been really helpful putting together all the facts of your case and supporting me in the depositions. I think you would be really good at a career in law. Why don't you apply?” I only applied to one law school – Western, which was my lawyer’s alma mater - and I got in as a mature student.
In my path to becoming first a disability and accessibility advocate and then a human rights lawyer, the messaging that I got in the legal profession was, “You'll never work in the profession because of your disability. You shouldn't be a human rights lawyer. You're too invested in the subject matter.” Well, clearly I'm doing the right thing given my successes in human rights. And given that I started law school at the age of 41. It's not too late – ever!
WXN: You’re also a prolific volunteer. Why is volunteerism important to you?
Lorin: My maternal grandmother was a very active volunteer in Hamilton. As a little girl, she would take me with her to visit nursing homes and to political events. She really ingrained in me that I have a unique perspective - a young woman with a disability - and it’s important that I share that and my voice with the world.
WXN: Looking back on your career so far, what makes you feel the proudest?
Lorin: I have been blessed to experience a number of accomplishments. Captioning advocacy is a big one – I was the first to bring captioning into several post-secondary institutions, courts, legal associations and entertainment venues. Accessibility legislation is another one – I was involved in bringing in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, known as the AODA, and continue today working on standards to make life more accessible for Ontarians. And my human rights advocacy – in mid-August, a landmark decision related to access to restaurant washrooms was released that had far-reaching effects.
In relation to my social enterprise, HearVue, this is the story of how it began. In June 2019, I was preparing my speech for the June Bushell Award that I was receiving in recognition of my perseverance in my legal career. I was reading Michelle Obama's book Becoming and trying to figure out what am I going to do with law and my role in human rights moving forward. There was a passage where she talks about how corporate law just didn't speak to her anymore and she wanted to move into healthcare community-based work. It was my “Aha!” moment when I realized my legal skills are transferable in a number of great ways. At that moment, I closed the book, I started thinking about creating HearVue and decided Michelle Obama would be my first event. Four months later, HearVue’s first live captioning event took place in front of Michelle Obama. I didn’t know how it was going to happen – I just fervently believed it would happen!
WXN: What are you most looking forward to next?
Lorin: I'm doing a lot of self-learning on inclusion. I've got a pile of books here: Inclusify, White Fragility, How to Be an Antiracist, The Power of Disability. Lots of opportunities for virtual learning and the time to do so during COVID have come out of Black Lives Matter, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Indigenous Peoples. Those of us in the human rights field, we never stop learning – and I believe that is true of lawyers as well.
WXN: What does the “X” in WXN mean to you?
Lorin: “Excellence” and “Exemplary” through its commitment to continuous improvement. “Excitement” as we link arms through our journey, particularly during COVID. “Extraordinary” and “Exceptional” as we celebrate women who do all they can to create change. And “Extra”, in that we get that extra support we need, when we need it.
When I read "advocating fiercely for diversity and inclusion in business, on corporate boards, and in senior leadership," I knew I found my tribe!
Interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
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Lorin MacDonald – Human Rights Lawyer; Founder and CEO, HearVue Inc.
Lorin MacDonald is a human rights lawyer and Founder and CEO of HearVue, a social enterprise dedicated to communication inclusion. A leader in accessibility and inclusion, all informed by her lived experience as a woman born with profound hearing loss, Lorin is recognized as one of Canada's top voices in the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion space. She uses her voice to ensure those who are misinformed or unconscious of accessibility barriers are equipped with the tools to create inclusive environments.