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Haben Girma

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Haben Girma
Girma in December 2019.
Born (1988-07-29) July 29, 1988 (age 35)
EducationLewis & Clark College (BA)
Harvard University (JD)
Disability rights advocate
WebsiteOfficial website

Haben Girma (born July 29, 1988)[1][2] is an American disability rights advocate, and the first deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School.[3][4][2]

Early life and education[edit]

Girma was born in Oakland, California in 1988 to an Eritrean immigrant family. Her father Girma Kidane Adgoy was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and her mother Saba Gebreyesus was born in Asmara.[5][6] Her mother fled Eritrea to Sudan among many other Ethiopian/Eritrean refugees in 1983 during the Eritrean War of Independence and Ethiopian Civil War. Her mother met her father, an Eritrean born and raised in Addis, in California.[2] Haben's parents are fluent in three languages; Tigrinya, Amharic, and English.

Girma lost her vision and hearing as a result of an unknown progressive condition beginning in early childhood.[1] She retains 1% of her sight.[7]

Growing up in the United States, Girma benefited from civil rights laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act.[2] She also had accessible technology, such as a digital Braille device—something her elder brother Mussie Gebre, who is also deafblind, did not have access to in Eritrea.[2] She graduated from Skyline High School, a mainstream public school, in 2006.[8]

At the age of 15, Girma traveled to Mali to do volunteer work, building schools with buildOn.[9]

Girma attended Lewis & Clark College, where she successfully advocated for her legal rights to accommodations in the school cafeteria.[10] She graduated from Lewis & Clark magna cum laude in 2010.[11] She then became the first deafblind student to attend and graduate from Harvard Law School, earning her J.D. in 2013.[10]


In 2013, Girma joined Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) in Berkeley, California as a Skadden Fellow. She worked there from 2015 to 2016 as a staff attorney, working on behalf of people with disabilities.[4][3]

Girma says she became a lawyer in part to help increase access to books and other digital information for persons with disabilities.[12] 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."[2]

While working for DRA in July 2014, Haben represented the National Federation of the Blind and a blind Vermont resident in a lawsuit against Scribd for allegedly failing to provide access to blind readers, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.[13] Scribd moved to dismiss, arguing that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) only applied to physical locations. In March 2015, the U.S. District Court of Vermont ruled that the ADA covered online businesses as well. A settlement agreement was reached, with Scribd agreeing to provide content accessible to blind readers by the end of 2017.[14]

In 2014, Girma gave a talk at TEDxBaltimore.[15] She confronted TED for not readily providing captions for all of their recorded TEDx talks, including her own.[16]

In January 2015, Girma was appointed to the national board of trustees for the Helen Keller Services for the Blind.[17]

On July 20, 2015, Girma met with US President Barack Obama at the White House to highlight the importance of accessible technology.[2] She provided introductory remarks on the occasion, the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.[18]

In April 2016, Girma left DRA to take up non-litigation advocacy full-time.[19]

In June 2016, Girma gave a talk on accessible design at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference.[20][21]

In 2018, The Washington Post published an op-ed by Girma directed at the Texas State Board of Education, which had voted to remove Helen Keller from the social studies curriculum. The board ultimately reversed its decision.[22][23]

In August 2019, she released a memoir, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law.[24][25]

Personal life[edit]

Girma enjoys participating in physical activities including surfing, rock climbing, kayaking, cycling, and dancing.[11][1]

Girma uses the assistance of a guide dog. She was matched with her first dog, a German Shepherd named Maxine, by The Seeing Eye in 2009. After Maxine's death in 2018, she adopted Mylo, another German Shepherd.[26][27]

Awards and recognition[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Bondy, Halley (October 13, 2016). "Deaf-Blind Harvard Law Grad Slays Every Expectation, But Don't Call Her An "Inspiration"". Oxygen. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Shapiro, Joseph (July 31, 2015). "She Owes Her Activism to a Brave Mom, The ADA and Chocolate Cake". NPR. Retrieved July 28, 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Haben Girma – The Journey from Self-Advocate to Legal Advocate to Educator". American Bar Association. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Haben Girma | Disability Rights Advocates". Disability Rights Advocates. Retrieved July 28, 2016.
  5. ^ "Deaf Person of the Month". www.deafpeople.com. Retrieved 16 May 2020.
  6. ^ "Eritrea: Haben's First Book". [AIM] Asmarino Independent Media. 21 August 2019. Retrieved 16 May 2020.
  7. ^ Wright, Robin. "Who is "Worthy"? Deaf-Blind People Fear That Doctors Won't Save Them from the Coronavirus". The New Yorker. Retrieved 16 May 2020.
  8. ^ "Haben's Story". Lighthouse Guild. Retrieved 16 May 2020.
  9. ^ Stasio, Frank; Campbell, Nicole (November 1, 2013). "First Deaf-Blind Student At Harvard Law Pursues Dreams". WUNC. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  10. ^ a b Bacon, Katie (July 1, 2013). "Launching a career at the intersection of law, education and civil rights". Harvard Law School. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  11. ^ a b Starrs, Jenny (January 4, 2016). "VIDEO: Deaf-blind Harvard-trained lawyer who made waves now rides them, too". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  12. ^ Ochieng, Akinyi (July 20, 2015). "An in-depth chat with Harvard Law's first deaf-blind graduate". Ayiba Magazine. Retrieved July 28, 2016.
  13. ^ Adwar, Corey (August 20, 2014). "26-Year-Old Deaf-Blind Lawyer Sues Scribd For Alleged Discrimination". Business Insider. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  14. ^ "National Federation of the Blind, et al. v. Scribd, Inc". Disability Rights Advocates. July 14, 2016. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  15. ^ TEDx Talks (February 28, 2014). "Why I work to remove access barriers for students with disabilities | Haben Girma | TEDxBaltimore". YouTube. Retrieved July 28, 2016.
  16. ^ Strochlic, Nina (November 5, 2014). "TEDx Talks Have a Disability Problem—but This Incredible Young Woman Is Working to Change That". The Daily Beast. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  17. ^ Jiang, Amy (January 26, 2015). "Deaf, blind Berkeley resident appointed to national organization's board of trustees". The Daily Californian. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  18. ^ Girma, Haben (November 20, 2015). "Presidential Remarks on the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (C-SPAN)". YouTube. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  19. ^ Girma, Haben (April 25, 2016). "Announcing a Career Change". Haben Girma. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  20. ^ "Disability and Innovation: The Universal Benefits of Accessible Design". Apple Developer. Apple Inc. 2016. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  21. ^ Kelly, Heather (July 11, 2016). "This deaf-blind lawyer thinks your app needs work". CNN. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  22. ^ Girma, Haben (19 September 2018). "Hey, Texas. Students need to learn about Helen Keller. Don't remove her". Washington Post. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  23. ^ Boyette, Chris; Holcombe, Madeline (14 November 2018). "Texas students will learn about Helen Keller, Hillary Clinton, afterall". CNN. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  24. ^ Bobrow, Emily (August 2, 2019). "Haben Girma Is a Trailblazer for the Deaf and Blind". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved September 18, 2019.
  25. ^ "New & Noteworthy, From Prince Albert to a Bird's-Eye View of the Apocalypse". The New York Times. August 6, 2019. Retrieved September 18, 2019.
  26. ^ "Disability Rights Advocate and LSC Alum Haben Girma on making her way in the world with help from her guide dog". Clinical and Pro Bono Programs. 10 September 2019. Retrieved 16 May 2020.
  27. ^ Girma, Haben. "Guide dogs don't lead blind people. We wander as one". Washington Post. Retrieved 16 May 2020.
  28. ^ "Haben girma | The White House". Whitehouse.gov. January 4, 2016. Retrieved April 20, 2017.
  29. ^ "Meet The 30 Under 30: Law & Policy". Forbes. 2016. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  30. ^ Andrews, Avital (March 14, 2016). "The 30 Top Thinkers Under 30: Haben Girma". Pacific Standard. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  31. ^ "100 Most Influential Africans: Ten Kenyans Including CJ David Maraga Listed". Answers Africa. 2017-12-07. Retrieved 2021-01-15.

External links[edit]