PhD graduate throws off disability stigmas: ‘I’m not less than’

Dee Genetti refused to let a traumatic brain injury end her career

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Lesley University
May 13, 2019

Dee Genetti would be forgiven for giving up on her PhD after two traumatic, life-shattering accidents.

Yet, the soon-to-be three-time Lesley graduate has not let any setbacks stop her from a single-minded determination to complete her doctoral degree. And at Commencement on May 18, she will have a piece of paper to prove she’s done just that.

Genetti’s first car accident in 1983 left her permanently wheelchair bound. Suddenly, the young mother of two and businesswoman couldn’t even get in and out of her house without help.

“All of a sudden I was nobody,” recalls Genetti, a licensed mental health counselor.

When she met disability advocates canvassing her neighborhood, everything changed, and she began to see her own potential as a champion for people with disabilities. In addition to joining local disability councils, she and a friend would do everyday activities such as hang out at the local mall to help acclimate people to being around the disabled. It wasn’t easy.

“People would be walking, and they would quickly turn to the other side of the mall rather than walk past us,” she remembers.

It was Genetti’s work with newly disabled people that lead her to Lesley. As she helped them navigate their conditions, she often ended up as a de facto counselor, just without the credentials.

At Lesley, Genetti earned a dual degree in 2003 with a bachelor’s in human services and a master’s in clinical mental health counseling with an advanced graduate certificate in trauma studies. Then she began her doctorate in educational studies, and four years later was ready to start her dissertation when a truck crashed into her car at 65 miles-per-hour. Genetti’s head ricocheted between the dashboard and headrest, leaving her with a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

“The velocity of my brain going forward and back like that, it shears everything in your brain,” she says. Genetti was left with a speech impediment and unable to read or write, but “my goal from day one was to get back to my dissertation. People thought I was crazy.”