Deafblind Harvard grad talks diversity

By: Marcus Whitman, Staff Writer

Photo by Marcus Whitman

Disability rights lawyer, author, speaker and the first deafblind woman to graduate from Harvard Law School, Haben Girma presented her talk, “People with Disabilities Drive Innovation,” Oct. 24. 

Vice President for Inclusion and Intuitional Equity Leah Cox opened the event, emphasizing its importance to the Towson community. 

“I’m very excited to hear Ms. Girma and learn about her truth in experiencing inclusive and sometimes un-inclusive spaces, diverse and sometimes not very diverse, and equitable or not equitable spaces,” Cox said.

Susan Willemin, the director of Accessibility & Disability Services, introduced Girma to the audience, pointing out her accomplishments, and highlighting stories from her book “Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law.”

“There’s no question that the sky is the limit for Haben Girma,” Willemin said. “Haben is the first deafblind graduate from Harvard Law School and she has made it her mission to advocate for equal opportunities for people with disabilities.”

In her talk, Girma highlighted the diversity that is present in the deaf and deafblind communities, indicating that there are “lots of different types of vision and hearing, and communication solutions.” 

Girma worked through many obstacles in her life to find solutions. 

“All my life I’ve been seeking solutions for how to connect with people,” Girma said. “All of us are social, all of us want friendships, and relationships, and conversations with family.”

Throughout her talk, Girma emphasized how some differently abled peoples’ environments often challenge them. She said that everyone needs to be aware of their environment and learn to advocate for those who can’t do so themselves. 

Deaf Studies clinical faculty member and program director, Justin Malone, attended the talk and and was interested in meeting Girma. 

“[I enjoyed] when Haben was talking about innovations occurring due to society’s barriers towards people with disability,” Malone said. “So many innovations were developed to create a universal design. Her presentation was spot on addressing this. I also enjoyed the Q&A session with her to get to know her on a personal level.” 

TU junior Barnabas Afley attended the event after seeing it advertised in the library.

“I definitely felt that is was important for me to come because I wanted to learn and just really hear what she had to say,” Afley said. “And I can apply it in my own life, like for instance standing up for what you believe in. Even if society say[s] you have this disadvantage [and] can’t do anything with it, you should stand up for yourself.”

According to Willemin, she wanted to bring Girman to campus to have a campus conversation about diversity and inclusion in relation to being differently abled.

“I want students to see people with disabilities as someone like them and rather than a stereotype person with disability,” Willemin said. “And so, she is a very diverse individual, not at all one dimensional.  She’s extraordinary so that’s part of the reason why I wanted to bring her.”

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