Haben Girma is our new hero. The 27-year-old lawyer is the first deaf-blind alumna of Harvard Law School.
After graduating magna cum laude with an undergraduate degree from Lewis & Clark College in 2010, Girma went on to earn her Juris Doctor (JD) degree from Harvard in 2013.
In recognition of her achievements, she had the exclusive opportunity to meet President Obama and give the opening remarks during the 25th Anniversary of the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] at the White House.
Haben, who was also on Harvard’s Ballroom Dance Team, is originally from the East African country of Eritrea. Her older brother was also born deaf-blind, and the pair was told their disabilities were “…a curse on the family.”
Haben said her grandmother believed “there was simply no chance” of her getting an education, but a move to California opened up a new world of opportunity when Haben’s mother, Saba Gebreyesus, learned that she and her brother had a legal right to an equal education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Haben was given access to advanced technology that allowed her to excel in school. In an interview with WUNC, she revealed that digital braille computers and printers assist her with reading, writing, and communicating.
The budding activist and civil rights attorney currently works for the Disability Rights Advocates law firm in Sacramento helping others fight for their rights under the ADA.
Haben said that her grandmother, who still lives in Eritrea, believes her success is “like magic.” She closed her speech by saying, “…People with disabilities succeed not by magic, but from the opportunities afforded by America and the hard-won power of the ADA.”
President Obama then said, “Thank you Haben for making sure students with disabilities have access to a world class education just as you have.”
Watch her beautiful speech and President Obama’s remarks below.