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Meet Harvard’s First Deaf-Blind Graduate, She Met President Obama

By Andre Jones

Haben Girma, the first deaf-blind student to graduate from the esteemed Harvard Law School, met with President Obama over the summer – and she’s just getting started.

Twenty-seven year old Haben Girma made history in 2013 after graduating from Harvard Law School with her Juris Doctor (JD) degree. As a result of this astounding achievement, Girma was afforded the opportunity to meet with President Barack Obama and to also give the opening remarks at the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to Hello, Beautiful, Girma disclosed that though her grandmother tried to bring her and her brother, who is also deaf and blind, to school, they were told that “there was simply no chance” of them obtaining an education due to their disabilities. This certainly would have been true had Girma’s family stayed in their East African country of Eritrea. Eritrea, population of roughly 5.4 million, bears the dubious distinction of making it onto Fox Business’s Top 10 Poorest Countries in the World list. With a poverty rate of nearly 70% and crippling United Nations sanctions, most of Eritrea’s citizens are concerned with survival – not education.

Had it not been for Girma’s mother, Saba Gebreyesus, and her decision to flee East Africa for the refuge of the United States, Girma very likely would not have had the opportunities afforded to her today. After immigrating to California, Gebreyesus found out that her children were legally afforded the right to an equal education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This option would not have been afforded to them in Eritrea, a country with no real humanitarian infrastructure, as well as being embroiled in a thirty year war of independence from Ethiopia.

Girma was afforded access to advanced technology such as digital Braille computers and printers that allowed her to communicate, write, and read effectively enough to excel in her studies and keep pace with other students.

While her and her sibling’s dual disabilities seemed like a curse to some members of her family, Girma has exceeded everyone’s expectations by not only graduating from Harvard Law School, but taking a position as a lawyer with California’s Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) to further advocate for the disabled. DRA operates under the guidelines and guidance of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Girma even met with President Obama earlier this year, where Obama communicated with Girma using digital braille technologies, “Thank you Haben for making sure students with disabilities have access to a world class education just as you have”, Obama communicated to her.

“That sends a very empowering message, “Girma remarked at Obama’s use of the technology. “It reminds the rest of the United States and the rest of the world that having an inclusive attitude ensures that people with disabilities can contribute their talents to society.”

 

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