The New Dealer

  • October 12October 2018 Edition

Haben Girma: A Deafblind Graduated From Harvard

Xiaoying Mei, Reporter

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What is the life of a deafblind supposed to look like? Maybe he or she can not go to school or work because of the disability. He or she might have no access to a lot of entertainment. Despite all these challenges, Haben Girma lives her life in a fantastic way which is beyond our imagination.

Haben Girma is the first deafblind to graduate from Harvard Law School. She also works as an accessibility advocate. With the experience of being a deafblind, she teaches organizations the value of disabilities and aims to inspire the development of  new technology to assist people with disabilities. Her goals is to ensure that people with disabilities have access to information and life options.

Girma was born in Oakland, California in 1988. Her mother walked from Eritrea to Sudan. She was helped by a refugee organization to come to the United States.  The story of her mother coming to the U.S. encouraged her to bravely face challenges in life and to start her own adventures. Girma has participated in a lot of physical activities including surfing, rock climbing, kayaking, cycling, and dancing. During her journey to learn and communicate with others, she had the opportunity to use a digital Braille device. It is an electromechanical device for displaying Braille characters, which helps blind people to read text output from computers. Girma achieved her success with the benefit of technology, therefore, she understood how important it is for people with disabilities to have access to technology and information.

After she graduated from Harvard in 2013, Girma became a lawyer and advocate for people with disabilities. She used the experience of deafblindness as a ladder to advocate for the increase of accessibility of information for persons with disabilities. In 2014, Girma confronted TED for not readily providing captions for their recorded talks, which caused people with disabilities to have no access to the information.  In 2015, she went to the White House to highlight the accessibility of technology. She was honored by President Obama as a Champion of Change. Girma gave a talk about accessible design at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in June of 2016. Now, she’s become a full-time non-litigation advocate.

Girma did not submit herself to her disability. Instead, she has embraced her differences with others, and she uses it as a power to help people with disabilities and influence the world. As one of her friends said, “I don’t see her as amazing, because she has done all these things being deafblind. I see her as an amazing person, because she has accomplished all these things as a human being.”

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Haben Girma: A Deafblind Graduated From Harvard