Haben Girma, who is helping to raise awareness for World Sight Day on Oct. 13, is part of Oxygen’s digital series In Progress 52. In 2016, Oxygen's Very Real is featuring 52 outstanding women: that's one woman a week, for 52 weeks. Check out the series here!
Below is the full transcript to the video above, titled "Meet The First Deaf-Blind Harvard Law Grad, Haben Girma." For more on Haben and her journey, read the full article.
[Haben's voiceover plays as she and her seeing-eye-dog Maxine walk through Times Square:]
I try to avoid using the word 'normal'. The word 'normal' carries judgment. So I try to celebrate diversity in all its different forms. And disability is one of the various ways humans are different. I'm deaf-blind. And I've lived with deaf-blindness which has taught me to be a really good problem solver. My name is Haben Girma, and I work as an accessibility and inclusion advocate. I teach organizations and individuals about the value of disability.
A lot of the technology we have now has been inspired by disability. So I teach people to see disability as an asset. I am known as the first deaf-blind student to graduate from Harvard Law School. I graduated in 2013 and did Disability Rights Litigation for two and a half years.
[President Obama types "Hi, Haben" on translator; Haben responds:]
"Hello, it's good to meet you."
It's always fascinating to figure out how different people communicate, that they want to hug, they want to give a handshake. So President Obama was very intuitive. And I was reading on my Braille display. And he put his hand under my hand, and he physically signaled - almost like a dance move - that he wanted to move away from the table for a real hug.
[Video clip of Haben Girma speaking to President Barack Obama:]
"I prefer real hugs to typed hugs."
[Haben Girma interview]
My mother's name is Saba. She grew up in Eritrea during the war. And my mother, when she was about 16, walked from Eritrea to Sudan and then a refugee organization helped her come to the United States. And hearing her stories over and over again growing up helped me develop my own sense of courage and the importance of going on my own adventures, my own journeys.
Most parents in the U.S. have heard of Helen Keller and know about some of the things in the disability community. For my mother, it was all very new. So she and my dad and the rest of my family were pioneers and had to figure things out as we went along.
[Haben Girma's friend, Mary Fernandez, World Blind Union Delegate:]
Although she is an amazing person, I don't see her as being amazing because she has done all these things being deaf-blind. I see her as an amazing person because she has accomplished all of these things just as a human being. To see a very clear example of somebody who is just leading her life despite her disability, who is doing things that we all do, that we all want to do, who is physically active, who is physically attractive, who is very intelligent, and still having someone like Haben who clearly has surpassed everyone's expectation by a long shot is really important and really powerful.
[Haben and Maxine standing in Times Square]
I would love to see more tech companies ensuring that their services are accessible to people with disabilities. Technology has a lot of potential to create more opportunities. There are one billion people with disabilities around the world. We're the largest minority group. And any company stands to gain more consumers, more revenue by ensuring that their services are accessible to people with disabilities.
Within the media there are a lot of stories that use the word inspiration to describe disability. And inspiration has many positive connotations. But the overuse of the word inspiration in regards to disability has dulled its meaning. And that kind of story has started to feel boring, especially for people with disabilities who have heard it many, many times.
So I'd like to encourage people in media to challenge yourselves to write stories about disability that don't use the word inspiration. Disability is not something we overcome. Disability, it's a part of human diversity. And all the barriers that exist are created by society. Physical barriers, attitudinal, digital barriers, it's up to all of us to work together to remove those barriers.
[Photo: Andrew Killoy]