Meet Haben Girma. The 30-year-old was born in Oakland, California to Ethiopian parents who escaped Eritrea in 1983 during the country’s independence war. Haben was born deaf and blind. However, due to the rights of people with disabilities in America as well as advancing technology, including a digital Braille device, she was able to achieve despite her physical challenges.
By the time Haben was in high school, she was building schools in Mali with the charity BuildOn. Haben went on to attend Lewis & Clark College, studying sociology and anthropology and graduated magna cum laude. From there, she continued on, earning her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2013. Haben worked with Disability Rights Advocates, a disability civil rights law firm based in California and highlights her most memorable case: a lawsuit against a company for neglecting to provide mandated access for blind readers. Haben and her firm won the case.
While Haben has had success despite her disabilities, not the same can be said for her older brother, who was born in Eritrea and also deaf and blind. Haben had the opportunity to speak at the White House in 2015, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Americans With disabilities Act. She recalled, “When my grandmother took my brother to a school in East Africa, they told her that deaf-blind children can’t go to school. There was simply no chance. When my family moved to the U.S. and I was also born deaf-blind, they were amazed by the opportunities afforded by ADA. For my grandmother back in Africa, my success seemed like magic. For all of us here, we know that people with disabilities succeed not by magic but through opportunities.”
Haben is a White House Champion of Change (2015) as well as a board member for the Helen Keller Services for the Blind. Girma affirms her work, stating, “I’m working on making the world a better place. There are many ways for us to do this: teaching organizations that disability can also be valuable asset, helping increase access to Braille, etc.”
Haben is making this world a better place simply by her existence, drive, and heart.