About Haben

The book cover shows Haben Girma in profile, confidently facing forward in a blue dress. The background is a warm red, and white text over the bottom half of the image says, ‘Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law. Haben Girma.’

The first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School, Haben Girma is a human rights lawyer advancing disability justice. President Obama named her a White House Champion of Change. She received the Helen Keller Achievement Award, a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, and TIME100 Talks. President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Chancellor Angela Merkel have all honored Haben. Haben believes disability is an opportunity for innovation, and she teaches organizations the importance of choosing inclusion. The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, and TODAY Show featured her memoir, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law.

Haben was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she currently lives. Her memoir takes readers on adventures around the world, including her parents’ homes in Eritrea and Ethiopia, building a school under the scorching Saharan sun, training with a guide dog in New Jersey, climbing an iceberg in Alaska, fighting for blind readers at a courthouse in Vermont, and talking with President Obama at The White House. Warm, funny, thoughtful, and uplifting, this captivating book is a testament to Haben’s determination to resist isolation and find the keys to connection.

The hard cover, paperback, eBook, and audiobook (narrated by Haben herself) are available at most bookstores. Learn more at the book page.

Speaking & Consulting

Choosing accessibility is not just about legal requirements, it’s also good business. Disabled people are the largest historically underrepresented group, numbering over one billion worldwide. Reaching a group of this scale creates value for everyone. Organizations that prioritize accessibility benefit by gaining access to a much larger audience, improving the experience for both disabled and nondisabled people, and facilitating further innovation. Haben explains in this article, originally published in the Financial Times, “People with disabilities drive innovation.”

Haben provides consulting and public speaking on accessibility, diversity, and leadership. Her presentations have touched organizations as wide-ranging as Apple, GE, Lenovo, Microsoft, the New York Times, Oxford Law, Pearson Education, Stanford, and SXSW. The daughter of refugees and a black disabled woman, Haben built her path to success on the belief that inclusion is a choice. We all have the power to advocate. Her engaging presentations ignite audiences to make positive changes in their communities.

A brief disability accessibility guide.


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Haben talks with President Obama at the White House 25th Anniversary celebration of the ADA. (Photo by Pete Souza)

Photo by Pete Souza

Haben and President Obama stand together at celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the ADA at the White House

Photo by Pete Souza

What People Say About Haben

Thank you so much, Haben, for that amazing introduction, and for working to make sure that students with disabilities get a world-class education, just like you have. So please give Haben a big round of applause.

President Barack Obama

She got out of Harvard, and you know what she’s doing? She is an advocate for opportunities for people with disabilities. Because in fact they have enormous ability, and all over the world that ability is going untapped, diminishing their lives and the rest of ours as well. So let’s give her a big round!

President Bill Clinton

I wish to take this opportunity, as well, to recognize you for your lifelong advocacy for people with disabilities, especially for the deaf-blind community. As a teacher and Prime Minister, I am particularly grateful for your work to ensure that students with disabilities have access to the tools they need to thrive at school and beyond. When our society is inclusive, we are all better off.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Sample Video


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Recent News

Deafblind Students at Gallaudet University Protesting Injustice

Gallaudet University, based in Washington, D.C., describes itself as “the only university in the world designed to be barrier-free for Deaf and hard of hearing students.” I first learned about Gallaudet from the guidance counselor at my high school who told me it would be perfect for students like me. I ultimately attended Lewis & Clark College, and then later Harvard Law School. But recent events at Gallaudet reminded me of my high school self, tired of feeling isolated and dreaming of a college where I would feel fully included.

Over the past week I interviewed four Deafblind students who entered Gallaudet University with high hopes for an inclusive experience. Like most universities, Gallaudet reduced on-campus housing due to the pandemic. The four Deafblind students told me they had lived in the residence halls during the spring semester and needed to remain on campus. The university approved emergency housing for the two Deafblind students who are white, but would not provide housing to the two Deafblind students of color. In one fell swoop, the school erased racial diversity from the Deafblind population living on campus.

While many students will be learning remotely this fall, the Deafblind students of color depend on tactile sign language to access information. Tactile signing is when one holds their hands over another’s hands to feel the signs. Throughout the spring they relied on a tight network of friends and volunteer interpreters in the DC area. Now that they’re back in their home states, far from their circle […]

August 26th, 2020|

Talking with TIME 100 and Walking with Autonomous Robots

TIME Magazine celebrated my disability justice work by including me in TIME 100 Talks, a video series spotlighting influential people. I was surprised and honored. My excitement turned to disappointment when I checked the video — no captions, no audio descriptions, and no transcript. The TIME 100 video featuring me was not accessible to me.

The experience brought back memories of TED posting my talk on accessibility without captions. The irony! I asked multiple people at TED to add captions to my TEDx talk. Several exhausting weeks later, they finally did. Since then I’ve learned speakers continue to struggle to get their TEDx talks captioned.

As a Deafblind person I access videos through transcripts. Hearing blind individuals benefit from audio descriptions, spoken narration of key visual details such as actions, scene changes, and text on screen. Deaf individuals who can see benefit from captions, onscreen text of speech and other key sounds. Adding captions, audio description, and transcripts to videos boosts their search engine optimization, helping videos reach a larger audience.

Disabled people are underrepresented in honors and awards because of barriers in the application and presentation process, as well as the discrimination during school and work preventing talented people from reaching their full potential. The fear of not knowing how to make a program accessible causes some judges to skip over disabled candidates. It’s okay if you don’t have the answers as long as you seek solutions. A leader is someone who gracefully acknowledges mistakes and learns from them.

TIME quickly responded by adding […]

August 18th, 2020|