Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

Pioneers in the Legal Arena Who Were Blind or Had Low Vision

by Jaime Rodriguez, RDPFS Intern

In celebration of Law Day 2022, we are highlighting two pioneers in the legal field who were blind, Richard Conway Casey and Roger Demosthenes O’Kelly.

The nation’s first blind federal judge, Richard Conway Casey was born in 1933, in Ithaca, New York. He graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in 1955 and from Georgetown University Law Center in 1958, earning Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Laws degrees, respectively. In 1964 at the age of 31, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, becoming totally blind in 1987. Ten years later, in 1997, he was nominated by President Bill Clinton and served as United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Earlier in his career, Casey was a legal investigator for the New York County District Attorney‘s office before becoming the Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. After a long, prestigious career, he died on March 22, 2007. For more information, please read the Los Angeles Times obituary titled, “Richard Casey, 74; first blind federal judge heard high-profile cases” and the Wikipedia listing on Richard C. Casey.

Roger Demosthenes O’Kelly was born in 1880 in Raleigh, North Carolina. At the age of 9, he contracted scarlet fever and lost his ability to see and hear. O’Kelly regained some vision about a year later and communicated with the “hearing world through writing notes on pads.” Eventually he attended and graduated from Shaw University in 1908 and received his legal license from the North Carolina Supreme Court. Subsequently O’Kelly enrolled in Yale University and graduated with a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1912, becoming the first DeafBlind person to receive a law degree. He opened his own legal firm, O’Kelly’s Legal Bureau, where he served as a Legal Specialist, providing legal services for many years for local business people in Raleigh and Granite Quarry, North Carolina. Roger Demosthenes O’Kelly is remembered as the nation’s first black, DeafBlind lawyer. For more information, please read the American Society for Deaf Children’s webpage titled, “First Black, Deaf-Blind Lawyer in the US.” Wikipedia provides additional details about Roger Demosthenes O’Kelly.