Disability Allyship: Milana Vayntrub & Haben Girma

Disability allyship has two crucial pillars: 1. Ask disabled people what we need, and 2. Based on those answers, take action to remove barriers.

Actor, director, and comedian Milana Vayntrub role models disability allyship. AT&T invited Milana and I to share a stage, sparking a beautiful connection. We filmed this conversation after our electric keynote.

Descriptive transcript

Haben and Milana sit together at a circular table. Haben is wearing a black, long-sleeve top and Milana is wearing a vibrant blue suit jacket and shirt. Milana types as she speaks, and Haben reads her words on a braille display.

Milana: Well, I really appreciate you telling me how best to connect with you and allowing me space to do it incorrectly—

Haben laughs, Milana looks to Haben and joins in.

Milana: And I love your laugh!

Haben: I’ve mentioned that there are no mistakes. All of us are growing. No one is perfect. So whenever people make a typo, I just glide past it. I’m also used to people typing in creative ways.

Milana: It’s almost like an accent.

Haben: Yes!

Milana: Or a personality quality?

Haben: Yes! I can tell when I’m talking to a British person—

Milana gasps, excited.

Haben: —because they start inserting U’s and writing English words differently and Germans tend to switch up the Y and the Z.

Milana: That’s so funny. I love that.

Haben: You’re right, it’s accents.

Milana: I also really appreciate you encouraging of vulnerability and asking questions because I think a lot of people want to interact more with blind people or deaf people or blinddeaf people-

Haben smiles and nods enthusiastically.

Milana: -and don’t know how.

Haben: Yeah, and it’s okay to not know how, as you said, vulnerability. Once you’re comfortable with being uncomfortable, when you’re comfortable with being vulnerable, you create space to ask questions. How do I communicate with a Deafblind person? And every time I meet a Deafblind person, I have to ask them: “Do you want me to voice? Do you want me to sign? Do we type?” And then I wait for their response.

Milana: Mm. What was your training like, to learn Braille and sign?

Haben: Braille, I learned in first grade-

Milana nods along, smiling.

Haben: -and it was just kind of a game. Can you figure out what this dotted— what this dot pattern means? And when I excel at that, move on to the next dot pattern. I was learning alongside sighted kids who are learning to read print. So starting with easy kids’ books and then advancing to like Nancy Drew and Goosebumps.

Milana: So cool! I loved Goosebumps!

Haben laughs, leaning back in her chair.

Haben: I don’t like scary stories now!

Milana laughs.

Milana: Now, no!

Haben: But as a kid— Right, now, no.

Milana: I liked maybe two horror films total. And other than that, my thoughts are creepy enough.

Haben and Milana laugh.

Haben: The news is creepy enough!

Milana: That’s right. So, that’s why we have comedy.

Haben: Yes! Humor dispels a lot of awkwardness around disability or other kinds of awkwardness.

Milana: I loved the way you used humor in your speech.

Haben: I love the way you use humor to sell phones!

Milana laughs and types back immediately.

Milana: We all got to use it. I particularly laughed out loud at the dancing dog joke. That was great!

Haben: That was the new one, actually. So I will continue using that joke in future talks.

Milana: That’s how the pros do it.

Haben nods.

Milana: With every stand-up set, they try a few new jokes, and if they do well, they repeat and/or alter them for the next show. You’re basically a pro stand up now.

Haben: And I just got a compliment from a professional.

Milana laughs, softly.

Milana: So that’s like getting… What’s it called? What do they call it? What do they call it when someone is knighted? Knighted?!

Haben: That’s a British question.

Haben and Milana laugh, Milana throw her head back.

Milana: And I didn’t use enough U’s.

Haben: And also isn’t that gendered?

Milana: You’ve been “ladied”…

Haben laughs, Milana turns to her smiling.

Milana: …the highest honor in the land!

Haben: Thank you, Your Highness!

Milana laughs.

Milana: It’s so nice chatting with you in this way. I really feel moved to take action and I feel really proud of the way I responded when you put me on the spot–

Haben: I loved your answer!

Milana: –Dot, dot, dot. In front of 1500 people!

Milana looks to Haben pointedly and laughs.

Haben: You did well!

Milana: I did! I really appreciate the nudge.

Haben: Yeah, I loved your answer!

Milana: Thank you.

Haben: It seems like action is already being taken.

Milana: It is!