She is an Eritrean-American woman who is the first deaf and blind graduate of Harvard Law School. As Haben Girma has strongly stated, “Disability is a part of human diversity”.
Despite the many challenges Girma has faced in her life, she has pushed for success and her hard work has paid off. She was born in Oakland, California to African immigrants; her father is Ethiopian, and her mother fled Eritrea in 1983.
Growing up, Girma had the opportunity to attend a school that recognized the rights of people with disabilities. Technology such as digital Braille devices have contributed greatly to Girma’s success.
Girma’s ability to accomplish all that she has was not due to luck. She worked hard from a young age, and utilized every opportunity that she was presented with. In addition to her regular elementary school work, she took Braille classes at a young age. By the time she was in high school she was doing volunteer with the charity BuildOn. She also spent time working in Mali, building schools.
Before attending Harvard, Girma attended Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, where she majored in sociology and anthropology. She graduated magna cum laude, and then continued forward to become the first deaf-blind student to not only attend, but graduate from Harvard Law School. Since graduation, Girma has worked as an attorney with the California-based disability-civil-rights law firm Disability Rights Advocates.
Her first case was a big one, a lawsuit brought against a company for failing to provide the required access for blind readers. It’s no surprise that the firm won that case. “I’m working on making the world a better place,” Girma said. “There are many ways for us to do this: teaching organizations that disability can also be a valuable asset, helping increase access to Braille, etc.”
Born and raised in Eritrea, Girma’s brother is also blind and deaf. However, due to his Eritrean upbringing he was not able to receive the same opportunities as his sister. She is working to make sure that people who live with disabilities are not restrained and they are presented with opportunity.
During the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2015, Girma gave a speech at the White House.
In the speech she stated, “When my family moved to the US 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.”
Girma is living her life to the fullest, regardless of any barrier she comes across. She likes to salsa-dance, surf, travel, kayak and rock climb. She is active, positive, and will stop at nothing to live out her life the way she knows it should be.
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