No small feat: Disability advocate and her guide dog approached graduation as they do everything else—together

In May, Marissa Nissley (B’24) discussed how embracing her blindness, and establishing a bond with her service dog Smalls, positively impacted her life at Georgetown—excerpts available below. 

Nissley, a business major, is the creator of Legally Blonde and Blind, a podcast she began during the pandemic to share experiences of the blind community and bring awareness to gaps in the resources available to younger blind people. During her time on the Hilltop, she also engaged in initiatives that support inclusivity and accessibility; served as a board member of the Georgetown Disability Alliance (GDA); and worked with Amy Kenny, associate director of the Disability Cultural Initiative, to establish the Disability Cultural Center (DCC).

Marissa Nissley (B’24), a student diagnosed with albinism and a visual impairment, has traversed the Hilltop accompanied by her service dog, Smalls. Together they’ve woven through corridors, attended classes, and engaged in campus life. In May, as Nissley prepared to graduate with Smalls by her side, she hoped to convey a message: disability is more than a limitation—it is a source of strength, pride, and community.

Nissley believes that her blindness has positively impacted her life and is part of her identity. Embracing her disability empowered her to ride nearly 100 miles on a tandem bike in the BellRinger cycling fundraiser, become an advocate for the blind community, and earn a degree in business. For Nissley, vision is not the only meaningful way to navigate the world. 

She travels through Washington, D.C., accompanied by Smalls. The yellow Labrador from the Guide Dog Foundation became her confidante and protector. Nissley’s decision to embrace Smalls as her guide was a shift in perspective. Initially hesitant to rely on others to fulfill her goals, she recognized that strength often lies in seeking help. 

Their bond, forged in trust and mutual understanding, has been the cornerstone of their journey through bustling city streets and academic corridors. 

Keep reading to learn about that journey; Smalls’ degree in “Fetch Analytics”; and Nissley’s commitment to advocacy, community engagement, and personal growth. 

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