WOMEN OF AFRICA: Deafblind lawyer Haben Girma on breaking barriers

WOMEN OF AFRICA: Deafblind lawyer Haben Girma on breaking barriers

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My mother grew up during the thirty year war in Eritrea, where Eritreans struggled to gain independence from Ethiopia. And when
she was sixteen, she took the very dangerous journey, walking three weeks through the deserts
of Eritrea. And then a reparatory organisation helped her come to the United States. I am an attorney here and I grew up facing access barriers as a deafblind person, and
that inspired me to become a lawyer. And when I first started at Harvard Law School,
there were very few deafblind attorneys. I couldn’t turn to older deafblind individuals
and ask, I had to figure it out a lot on my own. So graduating from Harvard Law School says
a lot about what can be done when people have the right attitude. There are so many forms of communicating information. And if we’re creative and open-minded, we’ll
find those forums. I use a digital braille display and QWERTY
keyboard for communication. The braille display shows in digital braille, mechanical dots
pop up to form braille letters. And as I am reading my assistant Chris types on a QWERTY
keyboard when there are conversations going on. At the White House celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities
Act, President Obama met with me and he used alternative technologies to communicate with
me. I prefer real hugs to typed hugs! That sends a very empowering message – it
reminds the rest of the United States and the world that having an inclusive attitude
ensures that people with disabilities can contribute their talents to society.

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