Haben Girma

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Haben Girma
Born (1988-07-29) July 29, 1988 (age 29)
Oakland, California, U.S.[1]
Nationality American
Alma mater Lewis & Clark College (B.A., 2010)
Harvard Law School (J.D., 2013)[2][3]
Occupation Lawyer
Disability rights advocate
Website habengirma.com

Haben Girma (born July 29, 1988)[3] is an American woman born from Eritrean mother and Ethiopian father, a disability rights advocate, and the first deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Girma was born deafblind in Oakland, California in 1988, after her mother fled Eritrea in 1983 and met her father, an Ethiopian, in California.[3][1] Growing up in the US school system, Girma benefited from civil rights laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act.[3] She also had accessible technology, such as a digital Braille device - something her elder brother, who is also deafblind, did not have access to in Eritrea.[3]

At the age of 15, Girma traveled to Mali to do volunteer work, building schools with buildOn.[5]

Girma attended Lewis & Clark College, where she successfully advocated for her legal rights to accommodations in the school cafeteria.[6] She graduated from Lewis & Clark magna cum laude in 2010.[7] She then became the first deafblind student to attend and graduate from Harvard Law School, earning her J.D. in 2013.[6]


In 2013, Girma joined Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) in Berkeley, California as a Skadden Fellow, she worked there from 2015-2016 as a staff attorney, working on behalf of people with disabilities.[2][4]

Girma says she became a lawyer in part to help increase access to books and other digital information for persons with disabilities,[8] 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."[3]

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 Disability Act.[9] Scribd moved to dismiss, arguing that the 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.[10]

In 2014, Girma gave a talk at TEDxBaltimore,[11] she confronted TED for not readily providing captions for all of their recorded TEDx talks, including her own.[12]

In January 2015, Girma was appointed to the national board of trustees for the Helen Keller Services for the Blind.[13]

On July 20, 2015, Girma met with US President Barack Obama at the White House to highlight the importance of accessible technology,[3] she provided introductory remarks on the occasion, the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act[14]

In April 2016, Girma left DRA to take up non-litigation advocacy full-time.[15]

In June 2016, Girma gave a talk on accessible design at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference.[16][17]

Personal life[edit]

Girma has enjoyed participating in physical activities including surfing, rock climbing, kayaking, cycling, and dancing.[7][1]

Awards and recognition[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Bondy, Halley (October 13, 2016). "Deaf-Blind Harvard Law Grad Slays Every Expectation, But Don't Call Her An "Inspiration"". Oxygen. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  2. ^ a b "Haben Girma | Disability Rights Advocates". Disability Rights Advocates. Retrieved July 28, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Shapiro, Joseph (July 31, 2015). "She Owes Her Activism to a Brave Mom, The ADA and Chocolate Cake". NPR. Retrieved July 28, 2016. 
  4. ^ a b "Haben Girma - The Journey from Self-Advocate to Legal Advocate to Educator". American Bar Association. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  5. ^ Stasio, Frank; Campbell, Nicole (November 1, 2013). "First Deaf-Blind Student At Harvard Law Pursues Dreams". WUNC. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  6. ^ a b Bacon, Katie (July 1, 2013). "Launching a career at the intersection of law, education and civil rights". Harvard Law School. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  7. ^ a b Starrs, Jenny (January 4, 2016). "VIDEO: Deaf-blind Harvard-trained lawyer who made waves now rides them, too". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  8. ^ Ochieng, Akinyi (July 20, 2015). "An in-depth chat with Harvard Law's first deaf-blind graduate". Ayiba Magazine. Retrieved July 28, 2016. 
  9. ^ Adwar, Corey (August 20, 2014). "26-Year-Old Deaf-Blind Lawyer Sues Scribd For Alleged Discrimination". Business Insider. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  10. ^ "National Federation of the Blind, et al. v. Scribd, Inc." Disability Rights Advocates. July 14, 2016. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  11. ^ TEDx Talks (February 28, 2014). "Why I work to remove access barriers for students with disabilities | Haben Girma | TEDxBaltimore". YouTube. Retrieved July 28, 2016. 
  12. ^ Strochlic, Nina (November 5, 2014). "TEDx Talks Have a Disability Problem—but This Incredible Young Woman Is Working to Change That". The Daily Beast. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  13. ^ Jiang, Amy (January 26, 2015). "Deaf, blind Berkeley resident appointed to national organization's board of trustees". The Daily Californian. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  14. ^ Girma, Haben (November 20, 2015). "Presidential Remarks on the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (C-SPAN)". YouTube. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  15. ^ Girma, Haben (April 25, 2016). "Announcing a Career Change". Haben Girma. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  16. ^ "Disability and Innovation: The Universal Benefits of Accessible Design". Apple Developer. Apple Inc. 2016. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  17. ^ Kelly, Heather (July 11, 2016). "This deaf-blind lawyer thinks your app needs work". CNN. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  18. ^ "Haben girma | The White House". Whitehouse.gov. January 4, 2016. Retrieved April 20, 2017. 
  19. ^ "Meet The 30 Under 30: Law & Policy". Forbes. 2016. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  20. ^ Andrews, Avital (March 14, 2016). "The 30 Top Thinkers Under 30: Haben Girma". Pacific Standard. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 

External links[edit]