Meet Haben Girma, The First Blind-Deaf Student To Graduate From Harvard Law School
If Haben Girma knows no boundaries, neither should you.
The lawyer, speaker, consultant, and author is the first-ever blind and deaf student to earn a law degree from the prestigous Ivy League university. She has since been a beacon of inspiration for individuals with disabilities, and focuses most of her legal work on fighting for equal opportunities for the disabled.
As a second generation African immigrant whose birth in the United States signaled a new beginning for her family, she wasted no time and made the most of all that came her way despite the many challenges brought about by her physical handicaps.
Apparently this sand is green? It feels like regular sand to me. Papakolea Green Sand Beach is the southern most point of the US. I’m standing feet-deep in green sand looking quizzical. Large rocks are on the left. On the right, the warm blue water stretches into the horizon. There’s a swimmer in the distance.
Growing up in California—a state that recognizes the educational needs of children with disabilities—was pivotal in forming her boundless approach to living. Her elementary school made classes with digital Braille devices accessible, all of which allowed her to keep up with the pace of her school work and discover that there were no hindrances to what she could accomplish.
Unfortunately, her older brother who was born with the same disabilities but was raised in Africa was not as lucky; Eritrean teachers simply told their parents that handicapped students had no room in school. Hence, upon learning of Haben's academic success, her grandmother was shocked, considering it almost an unreal, magical accomplishment.
Sharing her story with an audience at the White House in a 2015 speech, Haben said, "For all of us here, we know that people with disabilities succeed not by magic but through opportunities."
By the time she was in her late teens, the passion to lead by example and be of service to her community was well-established in her heart. The foundations of Haben's life's mission to help those in need were laid out in her volunteer work with non-profit BuildOn, a charity that builds schools in Mali.
Come college, she was accepted into Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon for her undergraduate schooling, then moved on to Harvard University where she majored in sociology and anthropology—and eventually graduated in 2013 with top honors as magna cum laude.
For reasons that need little to no explanation, Haben's life story is odds-defying. But rather than shine the spotlight on what she's already accomplished, she redirects our attention to the world's differently abled individuals that could do just as she has, or even surpass her achievements, if only they could be given the same opportunities to learn, excel, and discover their strengths like she was.
Her advocacy, she pushes through tangible means. Her support goes well beyond words; these days, she makes ways to meet with the world's biggest tech companies in hopes of influencing them to invest in technology designed especially for the deaf and blind. She herself has benefitted from such inventions; a QWERTY keyboard that connects to a digital braille display is a necessity for Haben, and what allows her to communicate.
If similar technology (and more advanced devices) were to be made available to the handicapped, the world would be a different place—Haben herself is proof of this.
To date, Haben has received accolades for her work and advocacies. According to HabenGirma.com, President Barack Obama named her a White House Champion of Change in 2015, while Haben has also received the Helen Keller Achievement Award, appointed to the national board of trustees for the Helen Keller Services for the Blind, earned a Forbes 30 Under 30 recognition, and will be publishing a book with Hachette in 2019.
Photos from @habengirma