May 3, 2017
For many of us, surviving college with all of its academic and real-life hurdles is a challenge in itself—but imagine doing so without being able to hear or see. Seems impossible, right? Not for Haben Girma, an Eritrean-American who was the first deaf-blind person to graduate from Harvard Law in 2013. She admits that she has an older brother, who is also deaf-blind, that didn’t receive the same opportunities as her.
“When my grandmother took my brother to a school in East Africa, they told her that deaf-blind children can’t go to school. There was simply no chance. When my family moved to the U.S. and I was also born deaf-blind, they were amazed by the opportunities afforded by ADA. … For my grandmother back in Africa, my success seemed like magic. For all of us here, we know that people with disabilities succeed not by magic but through opportunities.”
Haben Girma ’13 at the White House yesterday before introducing President Obama and Vice President Biden. #ada25 ・・・ President Obama types a message to Haben Girma, who is deaf and blind, before she introduced him at a White House reception for the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Outside of her amazing academic accomplishments, Girma works as an accessibility and inclusion advocate where she urges tech companies to keep people with disabilities in mind when creating their products. Like a true student of law, she brings up a valid point that inclusion of this large minority group is an opportunity for tech companies to gain more consumers. A win-win for everyone.
Gently holding my hands over a signer’s hands allows me to feel their hand shapes and movements. Most signers in Mexico use Mexican Sign Language, which I sadly don’t know. Amazingly, I met a charming young man who knows Mexican Sign Language, American Sign Language, Spanish, and English! He generously shared his language skills to facilitate communication between his Deaf friends and me. Yahir is currently studying to become a teacher, and he is going to be one fabulous teacher very soon! Transcript of one of our first conversations: Yahir: P-H-O-E-N-I-X Day School for the Deaf its called. Haben: I know that school. Yahir: (Surprised look.) Really? Wow, that’s good. I’m happy to meet you. Haben: I’m happy to meet you, too. Yahir: That’s good to know a little more from you. Haben: Thanks. Yahir: (Looks at his sister.) So.. (looks at his sister) my sister is filming. Haben: Ohhh… Yahir: in Facebook. Is that Okay? Haben: That’s fine, yes. Yahir: (Looks at his sister) She said it’s fine. You can film her on Facebook. Is that live? It’s live? (Waves hello.) (Looks back at Haben). Can you say your name and your name sign, please? Haben: Of course. My name is H A B E N, and my sign name is Haben. Thanks to Betty Miller for the transcript!
And like all of us, Girma has a pet peeve: The words “normal” and “inspiration.” She mentions that these words paint disabilities as something to overcome versus something that makes people diverse.
TELL US: What are ways companies can be more inclusive of people with disabilities?