Born deaf and blind, Eritrean and Ethiopian Haben Girma grew up in Oakland, California where her mother sought refuge during the war of independence with Ethiopia. She was educated in public schools, and because of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act, was entitled to pull-out instruction to learn Braille for an hour each day. When Girma went on to college she became an advocate for herself and others with disabilities, for simple choices and access that seeing and hearing individuals might take for granted. Her interest in civil rights laws brought her to Harvard Law School, where she became the first deaf-blind graduate in 2013. After graduation she took a role as a Skadden Fellow at Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) in Berkeley, California. From 2015 to 2016 she worked at the firm as a staff attorney. And since her time at DRA, Girma has been bringing attention to the ways in which technology can assist deaf-blind individuals in their everyday lives.
In a 2015 visit to the White House, she told President Barack Obama and a crowd of spectators, “...we know that people with disabilities succeed not by magic but from the opportunities afforded by America and the hard-won power of the ADA." Opportunities like the use of digital Braille devices powered by wireless keyboards. In her Google talk "Bringing Helen Keller to Silicon Valley: Designing Technology with Accessibility in Mind,” she empowers programmers and developers to change the lives of individuals living with disabilities, by imagining new ways of connecting and communicating with accessibility in mind.
Girma has been honored by Presidents Clinton and Obama for her disability rights advocacy, named a White House Champion of Change, one of the Forbes 30 Under 30 and one of Pacific Standard’s Top 30 Thinkers Under 30 in 2016. Because of her courageous example of following her dreams, and the way she fights for change for disabled communities everywhere, Girma is an inspiration, not only to individuals with disabilities, but to the world.