Expert Insights: Spotlight on Haben Girma
The deafblind woman who conquered Harvard Law uses her personal
journey and expertise to advocate for equal opportunities and inclusion for
people with disabilities.
Haben Girma’s best-selling memoir, Haben:
The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law,
takes readers on a journey from her summers with extended family in Eritrea and
her childhood in Oakland, California, to Harvard Law School and the White
House. Along the way she illuminates the barriers to inclusion and challenges
readers to experience the world from her perspective. She urges readers to
reframe their attitudes and expectations for people with
disabilities by viewing differences as assets.
Haben recently shared her insights with us on being deafblind, employment discrimination, the power of disability pride, and technological innovations that foster inclusion.
BENETECH: You identify as Deafblind. What does that mean to you?
encompasses a spectrum of vision and hearing loss. Deafblind people use a
variety of communication strategies to meet their needs — voice, text, sign,
and more. The term “Deafblind” is the easiest and most direct way to refer to
the very diverse group of people who live with both vision and hearing loss.
BENETECH: In the book you say, “Inclusion is a choice and happens when we remove barriers – physical, digital and attitudinal.” What are some ways that communities can remove attitudinal barriers for people with disabilities?
continue to wrongly assume that disabled job applicants cannot perform tasks
that we in fact can perform. Employment discrimination hurts our entire
community, and employers are missing out on incredible talent. Organizations
need to train hiring managers to remove these attitudinal barriers and increase
hiring of people with disabilities.
BENETECH: Haben means “pride” in Tigrinya, a language spoken in Eritrea and Ethiopia. Why did you choose this for the book’s title?
people with disabilities struggle with shame. It grows and grows, becoming an
internal barrier. Accepting a disability frees us to fully explore what
we can do. Many stories cover the struggle to come to terms
with a disability, and that is not my book. My book captures what it means to
live, and thrive, with disability pride. I hope the book will encourage more
people to celebrate the disability rights movement and become a member of the
disability community, which includes non-disabled allies.
BENETECH: You have been a
Bookshare member for over ten years – how has Bookshare helped you achieve your
HABEN: Since I
can’t watch film or TV, I rely heavily on books to learn about the world. The Bookshare
library is a treasure trove of knowledge and having had access to it since high
school has helped me tremendously. I hope more blind readers around the world
gain access to this accessible library so they can explore any topic they
desire. [Editor’s note: Bookshare is an ebook library that makes
reading easier for people with dyslexia, blindness, cerebral palsy, and other
BENETECH: What are some examples of innovation in the inclusion arena that you’re excited about?
excited for a future where accessible self-driving cars are a reality. People
with disabilities stand to benefit the most from self-driving cars, but
developers are not making accessibility enough of a priority. Waiting until
a product is “finished” to start thinking about accessibility is like
completing construction of a skyscraper and then tearing part of it down
to install an elevator. Planning for accessibility from the start saves
resources and results in an overall better product.
I partnered with Ericsson on a short film to spotlight the need for fully accessible autonomous vehicles. Technology designed with access in mind will advance equal opportunities for people with disabilities, increasing our ability to work, study, and travel with ease and freedom. The companies that choose to prioritize accessibility benefit from tapping into the significant market of over one billion people with disabilities around the world. If we plan for it, tech will create a barrier-free future.
BENETECH: You are a role model
for so many people. What do you hope to accomplish through your advocacy work?
writing, speaking, and advocating I hope to remove ableism from our society and
increase opportunities for people with disabilities, especially in the area of
Learn more about Haben, her book, and guidelines for creating positive disability stories.
Benetech shares and
supports Haben’s advocacy work to remove barriers and increase inclusion for
people with disabilities. We wish Haben continued success as a disability
rights lawyer and a powerful catalyst for change.