Black History Month: Haben Girma

Good morning, We are celebrating Black History Month and highlighting Black Disability activists and their civil rights contributions. 

Today we celebrate the work of Haben Girma: Disability Rights lawyer, speaker, consultant, and activist.  

The first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School, Haben Girma is a human rights lawyer advancing disability justice. President Obama named her a White House Champion of Change. She received the Helen Keller Achievement Award, a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, and TIME100 Talks. President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Chancellor Angela Merkel have all honored Haben. Haben believes disability is an opportunity for innovation, and she teaches organizations the importance of choosing inclusion. 

The daughter of Ethiopian refugees and a Black Disabled Woman, Haben built her path to success on the belief that inclusion is a choice. We all have the power to advocate. I have been privileged to hear Haben Girba speak in person; she is a dynamic, persuasive, brilliant person. 

Haben provides consulting and public speaking on accessibility, diversity, and leadership. Her presentations have touched organizations as wide-ranging as Apple, GE, Lenovo, Microsoft, the New York Times, Oxford Law, Pearson Education, Stanford, and SXSW. 

Girma says she became a lawyer in part to help increase access to books and other digital information for persons with disabilities. 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.”

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. 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.

You can learn more about Haben Girba through her published memoir, “Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law”.  Discover why she works to remove access barriers for students with disabilities in Girma’s Tedtalk. Her work is just getting started and I look forward to seeing what is ahead for her.

Happy Friday all!


Last modified: May 25, 2023