Staff Spotlight: Deepa Goraya

This month, Deepa Goraya, who focuses on disability rights advocacy at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, shared what drove her to become a civil rights lawyer, and how she sees her personal experiences reflected in her current practice.

Why did you decide to become a civil rights lawyer?

At first, growing up in Southern California, I wanted to be an entertainment lawyer so I could meet celebrities. But then my parents moved to a different neighborhood and wanted me to attend my local middle and high schools, rather than a school further away which had a visually impaired resource room for blind students.

I watched my mom advocate for me to attend my local middle and high school, where I was their first and only blind student. While my social experience in school was positive and I made many friends, I experienced several academic inequities. I often had to wait half a semester to get my brailed textbooks, and would have my mom spend hours reading me my daily homework assignments so I would not fall behind. I had difficulty navigating visual classes such as chemistry, AP biology, geometry, and trigonometry with teachers who did not know how to teach a blind student, and had to invent creative ways to learn the visual concepts. I began thinking about social justice and how I could make things better for myself and others in my situation. By the time high school ended, I knew I wanted to be a disability rights lawyer. When applying for law school, I had to battle the Law School Admissions Council to allow me to use a computer with talking screen reading software on it to take the LSAT, along with a brailed version. I got my first taste of litigation when I became a plaintiff in a case against the LSAC for lack of accessible online law school applications.

Through these experiences, I’ve found that I truly cared about equal opportunity and equal rights for all, disabled or not. Throughout law school, I took as many civil rights courses as I could. I now know, after practicing disability rights law for the past three years, that I made the right decision.

What’s the most meaningful case you’ve been a part of since you began working at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee?

The most meaningful case I’ve worked on, and am still litigating, is a class action lawsuit against Barbri Bar Review, Stanley et al. v. Barbri, Inc. It is on behalf of three former law students who are blind, Claire Stanley, Derek Manners, and Christopher Stewart, and a class of similarly situated legally blind individuals, who are not able to fully access Barbri’s bar review course simply because many of the online course features on the website and mobile application are inaccessible to their talking screen readers. The case was filed in the Northern District of Texas and alleges violations of both Title III of the ADA and Chapter 121 of the Texas Human Resources Code.

The Barbri case demonstrates the significance of accessibility in all places of public accommodation, including online education and test prep courses, as well as online businesses. Today, everything we do has an online component, or is completely online or in a mobile application. The digital space must be accessible to all, including the blind, if we are to have equal opportunity, equal treatment, and first class citizenship. Increasingly, businesses such as Amtrak and airlines, medical facilities, and restaurants are switching to touchscreen kiosks, which also must be made accessible.

The Barbri case reminds me of the struggles I experienced throughout my education. It highlights a lack of equal opportunity for blind students, who overcame countless obstacles to reach this point in their academic careers. Now, simply due to a lack of forethought and consideration of all its students, Barbri can potentially deny blind students their final rite of passage into the legal profession. This simply cannot happen 27 years after the passage of the ADA. Had I simply given up in high school and let myself fall behind my sighted peers, or quit because something was inaccessible, I too would have fallen through the cracks like so many other blind individuals I know.

What’s your favorite thing to do around DC in your free time?

In my free time, I enjoy going to brunch or happy hour with friends, reading a good book, exploring the various DC museums, watching a play or musical at the Kennedy Center or other local theaters, cooking a new recipe, or going to the surrounding vineyards for some wine tasting.

Thank you Deepa!

For more information about the Washington Lawyers’ Committee’s disability rights matters, or if you’ve been discriminated because of a disability, contact Amal Mimish at [email protected] or 202-319-1000.

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