Meet the Deaf-Blind Lawyer Fighting For People With Disabilities

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It’s easy to forget how inaccessible our world is to anyone with limited vision or hearing. Even something as simple as watching a Facebook video is a challenge due to access barriers. Haben Girma is fighting to change that.

Ahead is a transcript of Haben’s interview so that it’s accessible to everyone.

Video: Haben sits on a couch

Haben: Deaf-blindness is a rare disability, so most of the time I’m the first person in a certain situation. So I’m used to being a pioneer.

Video: The first shot is Haben typing on a keyboard, and the second shot is Haben speaking at an event

Title reads: Meet the Deaf-Blind Lawyer Fighting For People With Disabilities

Video: Haben sits on a couch

Haben: A lot of my friends know better than to tell me that I can’t do something because that’s actually encouragement to try to find a solution.

Video: In the first shot, Haben communicates via sign language with a student. In the next four shots, she surfs, dances, skis, and scales a building.

Graphic: Haben Girma was born deaf-blind, meaning she has limited hearing and vision

But that hasn’t stopped her from surfing, dancing, skiing, and even scaling a building

Video: Haben smiles

Graphic: Growing up, Haben attended mainstream public schools and quickly learned to adapt

Video: Haben sits on a couch, talking

Haben: When I was in school, I had a teacher who trained me how to travel as a blind person.

Video: A bus drives down the street

Haben: I remember one of the lessons; she intentionally had me miss my stop so that I could learn how to problem solve when things go wrong.

Video: Haben works with a young student

Graphic: But not all students are so lucky

Video: Haben sits on a couch, talking

Haben: Many students with disabilities don’t have access to information when they’re in school.

Video: Close-up of a hand reading Braille on a keyboard

Haben: We need to make sure the schools have access to accessible technology, have access to qualified teachers who can provide training.

Video: In the first shot, Haben uses her Braille keyboard. In the second shot, a hearing aid is placed in a woman’s ear.

Graphic: Thanks to assistive technology, deaf-blind individuals have various ways to communicate

Video: Haben sits on a couch, talking. We see sporadic shots of her using her Braille keyboard.

Haben: Deaf-blindness is a spectrum. There are people with limited vision and limited hearing, and we use a variety of different communication styles: sign language, print on palm. What I use primarily is a keyboard and digital Braille display — so people will type on a wireless keyboard, and I’ll read in digital Braille.

Video: President Barack Obama communicates with Haben via keyboard, and they shake hands

Obama: Hi, Haben!

Haben: Hello. It’s good to meet you!

Video: Maxine, a German Shepherd, stands with Haben

Graphic: Haben also has her trusty guide dog, Maxine, by her side

Video: Haben stands outside in front of a leafy wall, talking

Haben: Her job is to navigate around obstacles.

Video: Maxine guides Haben around a trailer hitch, then walks with her down a street

Haben: I make the decisions, and she follows me.

Video: Image of Haben in a graduation gown speaking at a university, followed by an image of Haben paddleboarding across a body of water

Graphic: Early on, Haben quickly learned to be her own biggest advocate

Video: Haben sitting on a couch, talking

Haben: When I was young, I had to teach people what I need, and that process helped me build up self-advocacy skills.

Video: People gather food at a cafeteria

Haben: There was one incident when I was in college. The college cafeteria would provide menus only in print, and blind students couldn’t access the menu.

Video: Haben speaks at a TED Talk event

Graphic: Haben asked the cafeteria manager to provide an accessible menu, but her request was brushed off

Video: Haben sits on a couch, talking, followed by a shot of Haben on a laptop in the park, researching

Haben: Later, I did research. I learned that I have a right to information, and I returned to the cafeteria manager and explained, “I’m actually not asking for favors. I’m asking you to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.”

Video: Time-lapse shots of people walking through a crowded street, a busy city intersection, and traffic on the freeway

Graphic: The Americans With Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, prohibits discrimination based on disability in all areas of public life


Video: Haben sits on a couch, talking

Haben: It changed the whole culture in the cafeteria. They started providing menus in accessible formats. And that taught me that if I advocate for myself, I change the community.

Video: Haben, in a