‘Incapacity is a chance for innovation’: Haben Girma on inclusion, encouragement |

On Tuesday evening, Student Disability Services hosted a conversation with haben Girma, a human rights attorney, who spoke about the importance of inclusivity.

Girma is the first DeafBlind person to graduate from Harvard Law School and she is a lawyer focused on disabled accessibility. She is also a writer and activist.

Lori Smith, Assistant Director of Student Disability Services, introduced the event and what it means.

“This event celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),” said Smith.

Then Girma discussed the purpose of her talk.

“I’m here to talk about the relationship between technology, disability, innovation and how racism affects and causes harm when linked to skill awareness,” said Girma.

Girma spoke about the pernicious narrative that disabled people are inferior, a prejudice that harms both the disabled community and the global community because it is simply not true.

“Disability is an opportunity for innovation,” said Girma.

Girma shared that Braille was invented by a blind person, although this story is often hidden, as are many other stories of inventions made by disabled people.

Dancing is one of Girma’s greatest passions, and she has shared videos on pre-pandemic dancing as well as tandem surfing to highlight the importance of breaking down barriers to trying new things as a disabled person.

“If I was successful, someone in the community chose to remove that barrier,” said Girma.

Girma then discussed her hopes for the future with the audience, highlighting inclusivity and embracing encouragement where she had felt discouraged in the past.

“I want us to get to a point where disabled women aren’t prevented from taking math, science and exercise classes,” said Girma.

The event then opened a question-and-answer section where Girma talked about the difficulties of progressive disability, trying to find out which technology works and which doesn’t.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the blind and deaf-blind communities had to balance each other out

“I wasn’t born a lawyer. I got into the legal profession over time, ”said Girma.

Girma also looked at the concept of inspiration, a phrase she often thinks is wrong.

“‘Inspirational’ – this word is used as a disguise for pity, so many times it has been used to actually knock us down,” said Girma.

Girma discussed the fact that work needs to be done to remove barriers and that work needs to be done to decrease performance, especially in businesses and university spaces.

The ADA also applies to virtual companies. Accessibility is important to these companies, not just for legal requirements, but also to reach more people around the world, improve content discovery, and improve innovation.

“Ableism is the biggest problem I’ve faced,” said Girma.

In considering how universities can become more accessible, Girma explained that universities can shoulder the burden of making their spaces accessible to all.

The conversation ended with what Girma would say to her younger self and other young disabled people.

“You are not a burden. You are talented, you are brilliant, you will give and serve many, many people, ”said Girma.

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