Meet the incredible young woman whose talk on disability rights was a hit at TEDx—and who had to fight to get that talk accessible to her fellow blind and deaf.
Haben Girma starts our phone call with an explanation of how she will hear me. She begins most conversations like this, she says in a chipper voice, and she hasn’t yet grown tired of it. Girma is a 26-year-old Harvard Law School graduate—and she is blind and deaf.
She’s being assisted by a translator, who is transcribing my questions into braille, which Girma then reads and responds to verbally. If our interview were in person, she would ask me to type out questions on a braille display. Technology, she says, has expanded exponentially since she entered kindergarten and first began communicating with the wider society. Today, she feels—and has proven—there are few limitations to what she can do.
The issue is, not everyone has adapted with the times. Online, a huge quantity of content is impossible to access for people with disabilities. So Girma, a budding disability-rights lawyer, is fighting in court to open the information highway to others like her, one website at a time.
“A lot of services and businesses are moving online and if they don’t provide access to people with disabilities, it destroys so many opportunities,” says Girma, who’s currently a prestigious Skadden Fellowship attorney at Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley, California. “It harms our right to live in this world as equals.”