Trailblazer of the Week: Haben Girma


Haben Girma has an inspiring story; the one that tells us that our disabilities are not a disadvantage. She was born deaf and blind.

Haben Girma is an Eritrean American woman. She is the first deaf-blind graduate of Harvard Law school.

She was born July 29 1988, Oakland California. Her mother migrated from Eritrea to California due to the war of Independence still ravaging at that time. Growing up in the US school system, Haben benefited from civil rights laws in the US. She also had accessible technology, such as a digital Braille device, something her elder brother, who is also deaf-blind, did not have access to in Eritrea. A digital Braille device is an electro-mechanical device for displaying braille characters ( braille character is a tactile writing system used by people who are blind or visually impaired. It is traditionally written with embossed paper, usually by means of round-tipped pins raised through holes in a flat surface. Blind computer users who cannot use a computer monitor can use it to read text output.)

Braille
Photo credit: Wikipedia

To Haben Girma’s grandmother, back in East Africa, it “seemed like magic.” Her granddaughter, born deaf and blind, is a graduate of Harvard Law School and works as a civil rights attorney. It’s easy to understand why the grandmother feels that way. Years before, she had tried to find a school in Eritrea for Girma’s older brother, who was also born deaf and blind. She was turned away. There were schools for blind children and schools for deaf children. But no school would teach a child who was deaf-blind (that’s the preferred terminology in the disability community).

As a teenager, Haben volunteered to go to Mali to do volunteer work, building schools with the organization buildon

Girma became a lawyer to help increase access to books and other digital information for persons with disabilities. She now works to change attitudes about disability around the world, including the development of accessible digital services

Digital information is just ones and zeroes…It can be converted into any kind of format. And those people who develop these services — programmers, technology designers — they have an incredible power to increase access for people with disabilities. And I hope they use it- Haben Girma

She is currently a disability right advocate. You would agree with me that people living with some form of disability needs a lot of attention because of their ability limitations. They also sometimes are discriminated. Haben Girma who also is in same shoes with these category of people has taken it upon herself to advocate for them using the opportunity and skills of being a Lawyer.

Using a digital device that displays Braille characters, Haben Girma talks with President Obama at a White House ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
White House photo/Courtesy of Haben Girma

Haben Girma has earned recognition as a White House Champion of Change, Forbes 30 under 30, and BBC Women of Africa Hero. The first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School,   Because of her disability rights advocacy she has been honored by President Barack Obama, President Bill Clinton, and many others.

Haben loves surfing, rock climbing, kayaking, cycling, traveling around the world and  Salsa dancing

Source: Habengirma,  wikipedia, venturesafrica.

photo credit: Habengirma



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