Entertaining real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life
Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life. The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on March 8th, 2016
Haben Girma: The first deaf-blind Harvard Law School graduate.

Haben Girma With President Obama
Haben Girma With President Obama  

To Haben's grandmother in East Africa, it "seemed like magic," as she could hardly believe what has become of 27 year old Haben, a Harvard Law School graduate and civil rights attorney.

In July, 2015 at the White House, Haben joined President Obama and other top U.S. government officials in celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

This landmark civil rights legislation prohibits discrimination against the disabled, and mandates accessibility to buildings, bathrooms, busses, and other essential elements of life.

When Haben spoke with President Obama during that anniversary celebration, they sat in front of each other, with the president typing on a wireless keyboard, and Haben on a Braille device.

So who is this remarkable young lady?

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Haben was born deaf-blind in Oakland, California in 1988.

Because of the ADA Haben became a mainstream student in the Oakland public schools and she learned Braille within the school system.

Never one to let her disabilities stop her, by the time Haben was 15, she had kayaked, skied and traveled to Mali, in West Africa.

Haben later graduated from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon and then in 2013, Harvard Law School.

Given her physical limitations, how did she take classes, exams and verbally answer questions at Lewis & Clark and then at Harvard?

In a radio interview at North Carolina University, Chapel Hill, Haben said, "It was just constant positive creative thinking, optimism, and we - we made it."

By "we made it," she meant both universities regularly communicated with her to solve problems, whether in reading cafeteria menus or putting lectures into Braille, using digital Braille computers and other devices at each school.

Haben had already mastered getting around on her own in navigating steps, hallways and within classrooms.

Today, Haben is a civil rights attorney for Disability Rights Advocates, a law firm headquartered in Berkeley, California

One of her most important responsibilities is to encourage the development of new technologies to assist the disabled, a message she has already taken to China, Costa Rica and Ethiopia, as well as the White House.

Just a few days after speaking with President Obama, Haben spoke at Google headquarters, her talk entitled, "Bringing Helen Keller to Silicon Valley: Designing Technology with Accessibility in Mind."

Also confronting disabled people are the many cultures that "… view disability as a curse on the family," an issue Haben speaks of wherever she goes.

"Advocates around the world are working to change such attitudes, and I help as best I can."

People need only observe Haben to know what the deaf-blind or those with other disabilities can accomplish when given the opportunity.

Success Tip of the Week: Welcome the disabled, any of whom could potentially become among the best of your employees and the best of your friends.

Editor's Note: To learn more about Haben, click here and here. To see her Ted Talk, click here, or her interview in Ethiopia here. To learn more about the ADA, click here. To learn more about her employer, Disability Rights Advocates, click here. To learn more about Helen Keller (1880 - 1968), the most famous deaf-blind person https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Keller.

Thank you to my friend Tom Brown for calling Haben and her remarkable story to our attention.

In the next KazanToday: A man who builds tiny homes for the homeless.

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