Photograph: Deborah Groeber with her guide dog, Duncan. Photo Credit: Joe Piniero.
Deborah Groeber believes it is crucial for people with disabilities to be included in "mainstream society" to the fullest extent possible. Though deaf and legally blind, Groeber seems well-prepared to help accomplish this goal through a career in disability and labor employment law following her graduation today from Columbia Law School.
"Much of society has had little or no exposure to individuals with disabilities," she says. "Through both exposure and experience, people can learn about both the abilities and disabilities of others and become more comfortable with those different from themselves. It is only through day-to-day interaction that this learning takes place."
Groeber was born with a rare condition known as Stargardt's Disease, which causes hearing and sight deterioration. At the age of 22 months, she was diagnosed as hearing impaired; at 26 months, she regained her hearing through surgery and spent the next few years as a "normal" child, learning to read and speak. At the age of eight, both her sight and hearing began to deteriorate. She lost her sight at age 10 and was deaf again by age 12.
However, because of her early years as a seeing and hearing child, she speaks nearly flawlessly and can lip-read extremely well, provided the speaker is facing her and no more than three or so feet away.
During lectures at the Law School, an interpreter (standing close by) translated her law professors' words into sign language. Groeber also reads with a print enlarging machine purchased by the Law School, as well as with a braille printer. She also gets around with the aid of her guide dog, Duncan.
Groeber's disabilities have never stood in her way. Before coming to Columbia, Groeber earned a bachelor's degree in health care administration and economics from the University of Pennsylvania, magna cum laude.
She also received an M.B.A, in marketing and insurance from the Wharton School; before enrolling at the Law School she was a senior financial analyst at McNeil Consumer Products Co. (Johnson & Johnson).
Following graduation, Groeber will study for the New Jersey and Pennsylvania bar exams; in August, she will marry her fiance, Anthony Cirillo, and then honeymoon in Australia before joining the firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius as an associate in the labor and employment section.
"One of my goals after graduation is to become more involved with the educational rights of children with disabilities," she says. "In preparation for this, I recently took a special education class at Teachers College, where I learned about the different classifications of disability in children and the legislation and case law covering the educational rights of children with disabilities.