The first deaf-blind student to graduate Harvard Law School wants everyone to join the fight for more accessibility: ‘I’ve been advocating for years. We need non-disabled people to start doing the work.’

Meet Haben Girma, the first deaf-blind student to graduate from Harvard Law School. She's also a disability rights advocate who wants everyone to join the fight for more accessibility.

Video Transcript

HABEN GIRMA: My name is Haben Girma. I was the first deaf blind student to graduate from Harvard Law School. How did I make it through Harvard Law School? I danced my way through law school literally. I was part of the ballroom dance team.


When I was in college, I heard about so many new tech services coming out that would make life easier like e-readers, electronic books, and a lot of those tech companies were ignoring disabled people. So I decided to become a lawyer and help advocate for greater access online. So let's talk about the title of my book, "Haben-- The Deaf Blind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law."

So many people say I overcame my disability, which is problematic. Disability is not the problem. The problem's ableism, the assumption that disabled people are inferior to non-disabled people. And one way I conquered ableism, I graduated from Harvard Law.

I'm deaf blind and access information best through Braille. I'm holding up a device with Braille at the bottom. And if people ask questions I'm running my fingers over the dots reading the questions then responding back by voice.

There are all kinds of hearing loss. My hearing loss is in the low frequencies. Consequently, I intuitively learn to speak at a higher register. There have been people who say, oh, you sound like a little girl, and when they say that, they're disrespecting woman. We need to value all voices.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed 30 years ago. 30 years later, there's still many things that are not accessible. I've been advocating for years. We need non-disabled people to start doing the work.

During the pandemic, I've been texting and writing with friends, and then once a day, I've been going out for a walk with my guide dog. Many of the physical activities I love doing-- dancing, paddle boarding, climbing-- often involves other people. Maybe it's because I can't see TV and films that I feel really moved to be physically engaged.

Many disabled people don't like being called inspiring. Inspiration, that word is often used as a disguise for pity. Let's move away from that and instead move towards the original meaning. It's to feel moved to do something. If you feel inspired, make a commitment today to do one thing to make your community more accessible.