When Gregory Hlibok was 9 years old, he wanted to be a lawyer — until adults told him to consider another field, since it was “not possible” for him to litigate in a courtroom as a deaf person.

Profoundly deaf since birth, Hlibok at first dutifully studied engineering, but never gave up on his dream. Now one of an estimated 170 deaf lawyers in the United States (out of a population of 36 million people with impaired hearing), Hlibok, 43, is the new head of the Federal Communications Commission’s Disability Rights Office.