Deepa Goraya, JD

Deepa GorayaDeepa Goraya is a civil rights and Disability Rights attorney currently working at Disability Rights Maryland, and living in Washington DC. She currently works on Medicaid and other healthcare issues such as representing individuals with disabilities in administrative hearings to obtain and maintain support services such as home and community based services through Medicaid 1915(c) waivers, Maryland’s Community First Choice program, REM nursing, and in-home aid services. She has experience in enforcing the rights of people with disabilities through litigation in the areas of public accommodations, transportation, employment, education, and other areas. She has focused in particular on improving the accessibility of web sites, mobile applications, and touch screen technology for the blind. Ms. Goraya, who is completely blind, has participated in all phases of civil litigation in state and federal court and before administrative agencies on behalf of individuals with disabilities and disability rights organizations. She possesses substantive knowledge of Titles I, II, and III of the ADA, Sections 501, 504, and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and various state disability laws.

Prior to Disability Rights Maryland, Ms. Goraya was Associate Counsel at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. She worked on numerous cases challenging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and state and local disability statutes. Some of her successes included a settlement against Sweetgreen, Inc. to remediate its online ordering platform, which was inaccessible to blind customers; a public consent decree against Barbri, Inc. to make its online bar review course and materials accessible to blind students; participating in a successful trial against Baltimore County for failure to accommodate, and then constructively discharging, a 30-year employee with a disability; and a settlement against taxicab companies in Washington, DC that refused to pick up customers with service animals.

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She is a member of the California and Washington, D.C. bars, and graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 2012, and from UCLA, Cum Laude, in 2008. She has served as a Commissioner on the American Bar Association’s Commission on Disability Rights, and currently serves on the board of the Disability Rights Bar Association and on the board of the National Association of Blind Lawyers.

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My name is Deepa Goraya. I am a disability rights attorney. I currently work at Disability Rights Maryland, and I live in Washington, DC. Prior to, well, right now at Disability Rights Maryland, I work on Medicaid and developmental disability issues, as well as some ADA issues. I work with people who are receiving waiver services under the 1915 C waivers under Medicaid. I help them with their appeals for like denials of personal assistance services or you know, they need more hours of personal assistance or they’re denied certain other programs like the Employed Individuals with Disabilities Program. So I help them with a lot of administrative appeals and other forms of advocacy. And prior to my work at Disability Rights Maryland, I was at the Washington Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. And there, I worked a lot on systemic litigation around the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehab Act, and I worked a lot in digital accessibility as well, bringing cases around digital accessibility issues. And I’m really passionate about disability rights and all civil rights.

My first memory of the ADA and discrimination was, so I’m totally blind. And I went to an all public school for the majority of my education and I joined, I worked, I went to the, my local high school, starting freshman year. And I remember like being in like AP classes and realizing that, you know, that the AP exams like for biology, or even my calculus, not calculus, but trigonometry. I was in trigonometry class and I was also in AP bio later on in my school. And I had to take the AP bio exams and AP exams, and I realized that the biology of them was just really visual. And I was really struggling with how to take the exam and like understand the visual graphs and charts and stuff like that. And I realized at that point that this is just not fair.

Like, you know, they should have a better way of testing students who are blind with these visual pictures, like it was like a diagram of like, I don’t know, like some internal organ or something, and you had to, they were testing you on various parts of that. So it was just really unjust and, you know, I ended up doing well on the exam, but I thought I was going to fail it. And that just really scared me. And I realized like, I really want to be a disability rights lawyer. Like this is not fair. And I was also the first, first and only blind student of my high school and dealt with a lot of issues around like getting my books on time and getting things brailled for me, keeping up with my peers and you know, so it was just a struggle.

And at that point I realized like I really want to work in disability rights. And the first form of discrimination, not discrimination, but inequity, another inequity that I faced was when I was applying to law school, I noticed that my first digital accessibility barrier when I couldn’t access the, the college, the law school applications from the law school admission council’s website, that the LSAC had a portal where you could apply to law schools through that portal, and it was just not accessible, and I was just shocked by that. I was like, wow, this is the law school admission council and their own website is not accessible. And so I had to use someone to help me apply to law school and fill out the applications, but then I also contacted the national Federation of the blind, which I was a part of, and I, and also, uh, disability rights advocates and told them about this issue. And I became a plaintiff in my first ADA lawsuit. So that was, that was, and I realized how, you know, litigation or, or being in law could help change things eventually LSAC, because of the lawsuit made its website accessible. And I, you know, I was not around, well I was very little, when the ADA was passed. So I don’t have any recollection of that, but I know like the ADA has made things where, you know, people can now be in school. People with disabilities can be in school, mainstreamed with their sighted peers or with their non-disabled peers. And that’s a lot better. A lot of places are physically accessible, but I think now we have to work on like digital barriers. The digital accessibility is a new form of, kind of discrimination or inequity. And also there’s still a lot of, you know, discrimination out there in employment and just various other things like housing, voting, you know, there’s a lot of, a lot of work to still do. And disability rights is a part of civil rights.

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If I could pick one thing to change or one thing that could make things accessible, I would say, update the ADA regulations and the ADA statute to, incorporate digital accessibility because digital accessibility affects pretty much every aspect of life now. It’s not just a luxury, it’s a necessity to have digital accessibility. It can affect apps like transportation services. It can affect voting, like vote by mail and other forms of voting. It affects being able to do your job in the workplace. If you have inaccessible software in the workplace, that can affect your job. And, you know, you can’t grow in your job where you can’t do your job. It affects, you know, so many things, and so I would say we need to update the ADA regulations and the statute to reflect, you know, websites, apps, kiosks, all forms of digital accessibility be fixed under the ADA. The ADA should apply to those places as well.

We should be educating everyone about digital accessibility and about people with disabilities. You know, there’s a lot of misconceptions out there about whether people with disabilities me in particular, like being from the blind community, how we do our jobs, whether we can work or not, you know, no one really knows about screen readers and how we navigate the web. So I think that we can do our part by educating the public, maybe kind of having an expose or some kind of media campaign about highlighting different groups of people with disabilities and how we navigate our daily lives and also educating people about digital accessibility. Like I think digital accessibility accessibility should be incorporated from the very beginning into, you know, computer science classes and to web development, courses like everyone who is out there, you know, designing apps or going through various design courses for websites or apps or kiosks or whatever, should be knowledgeable about digital accessibility.

You know, it’s often an afterthought, Oh, we didn’t, this is not accessible. Let’s try to make it accessible now. And then it’s harder to make it accessible. It’s still doable, but it’s harder to do it afterward when you should be incorporating it from the beginning when you’re designing something. So, you know, and there needs to be accessible documents. Like I come across inaccessible PDF documents or other forms of documents on a daily basis for my job and otherwise. And so we really need to educate companies like Adobe and even the legal search engines, legal billing systems, you know, all forms of corporate and company products, you know, all these companies that designed these products and stuff that people use on a daily basis should be informed of digital accessibility. So I think we just need to have educating campaign out there about, about these issues. And then we can slowly start to change things on a more systemic level.

In partnership with Diana Pastora Carson, M.Ed.
Author: Beyond Awareness: Bringing Disability into Diversity Work in K-12 Schools & Communities, and children’s book Ed Roberts: Champion of Disability Rights, ADA 30th Anniversary Edition

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