Many students believe they have the hardest lives in the world, having to study religiously and still balance out a social life. However, this is minimal when compared to Deepa Goraya, a Diamond Bar High School alumni, who has been blind since birth. Goraya is a disability rights attorney at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs in Washington, D.C.
Goraya’s condition is called Retinopathy of Prematurity, or ROP. She was born three months premature and had to stay in an incubator. While in the incubator, the oxygen levels were too high, causing her blood vessels in the back of her eyes to burst. This resulted in a large amount of scar tissue, eventually detaching her retina in her left eye. However, Goraya still has some light perception in her right eye.
Goraya graduated from DBHS in 2003— moving on to pursue an English major at UCLA and graduating in 2008. In high school, Goraya realized her passion for civil rights; she wanted to advocate equal treatment and opportunity on behalf of the people with disabilities. From 2009 to 2012, Goraya attended the University of Michigan Law School.
Goraya recalls that her favorite teacher was Mr. Kirkeby, who is now retired, because of his fun ways of teaching English, which ultimately inspired her to major in that subject— although she has always loved reading and writing.
While most students worried about fitting in at school, Goraya was struggling to fight her disability in all types of ways.
“I had to overcome people’s ignorance and stereotypes about blindness, as well as unequal treatment. I often would not get my braille books on time, which put me behind my sighted classmates,” she said.
Goraya expresses gratitude toward her aid, Dee Silva, who became her brailist and helped her learn braille. She is also grateful toward her mother who often read assignments and books to her.
“I had to [overcome] people’s stereotypes in order to attend my local school district as the only blind student, instead of going to another district where they had a visually impaired program. [My parents] knew I could succeed if I had all the resources and accommodations I needed,” she said.
Despite the struggles that Goraya had to overcome, and is still overcoming today, she stays optimistic and determined throughout it all.
“Throughout college and law school, I had to fight for my accommodations on exams and in the classroom, on standardized tests such as the LSAT, and getting my materials in an accessible format. It took diligence, determination, and persistence to never let all this stop me. I also had to learn to become independent and self-sufficient,” Goraya said.
In 2005, Goraya attended a training center at the Louisiana Center for the blind. There, she learned how to do everyday essentials, such as cooking, cane travel, and computer and braille classes.
“After this five-month program, I was much more confident and was completely independent. I found an amazing new sense of freedom,” she said.
While it seems like her education story is a huge fulfillment as a whole, Goraya begs to differ. She explains that guarding herself from the stereotypes and helping others are her top accomplishments.
“[Attending the Louisiana Center] was a tough program and taught me a lot about myself and how I can’t let society’s notions and low expectations about blindness influence me. I have to educate people about blindness and about the capabilities of blind people, and do things despite what they may think,” Goraya said.
Another one of her accomplishments is what she was able to do in school, despite her physical disadvantage.
“Graduating from law school, passing the California bar [exam], and getting a job as a disability rights attorney is also one of my major accomplishments. Every step, from getting through the LSAT, to going through law school, passing the bar, and finding a job despite the subtle discrimination that still exists today against people with disabilities, was a major obstacle,” Goraya explains.
While there were those who constantly input negative feedback in Goraya’s life, she never let them stop her from doing what she aspired to do.
“Hard work and determination got me to where I am. I didn’t listen to those who were negative and doubted me or told me I couldn’t do something. I only listened to those who encouraged me and followed those who I saw as positive role models. It doesn’t matter how smart you are— you have to work hard and not be lazy,” Goraya said.