A New Tool for Deafblind People: A Signing Robot Hand

Haben feeling a black robotic hand that is signing the letter "S"

If you can’t read Braille, what do you think of reading a robot hand? Video Description A black-gloved, human-sized hand sticks up from a base with about a dozen buttons. As it signs the American Sign Language letters S-U-N it makes a mechanical whirring sound. Haben: Deafblind people who can’t read Braille may soon have … Read more

Seeing Eye Dog Mylo and Haben Visiting Juneau, Alaska

I’m sitting on the floor in front of a black sofa holding up my book for Mylo, my German Shepherd guide dog. He’s lying on the sofa looking down at the book. He will neither confirm nor deny that he read my memoir.‬

On Wednesday May 1, 2024 the Juneau Public Library is hosting a reading and discussion with Haben Girma. She will read, in Braille, from her book Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law. She welcomes questions, and Mylo does, too! Join us for an engaging conversation on how we all can make our communities … Read more

An iPhone Feature Helping Deaf/Hard of Hearing People: Live Captions

My friend Lainey Feingold showed her 91-year-old dad how to turn on Live Captions on his iPhone, and now he loves how much easier phone calls are for him. How many other elders don’t know about Live Captions? Everyone, including our elders, should have communication tools that help facilitate connection. Share accessibility features with elders in your communities.

More great ideas from Lainey on how to increase accessibility for elders: iPhone Live Captions Wow My 91 Year Old Dad.


Haben is wearing a black long-sleeve top with a small microphone attached to the collar. She is in front of a vibrant blue wall. Mylo is resting on a raised surface behind her.

Haben: Today I’m talking about an accessibility feature on the iPhone called Live Captions, and it turns on a caption panel on your phone so you can see text of audio. This could be phone calls, FaceTime, or any other sound on your phone. To turn it on, you go into Settings > Accessibility.

An iPhone screen recording plays.

iPhone: Live Captions Button. Accessibility. Back Button. Live Captions Heading. Live Captions Beta Switch Button Off. Double Tap to Toggle Setting. Appearance Button. Your iPhone will use on device intelligence to automatically display captions across all apps. Accuracy of Live Captions may vary and should not be relied upon in high risk or emergency situations. Live Captions Heading. Live Captions in FaceTime Switch Button.

Haben is in front of the vibrant blue wall, Mylo resting behind her.

Haben: My friend Lainey Feingold is an attorney and author who wrote a book—

The dark teal cover of Lainey’s book appears onscreen in three versions: paper, an iPhone screen, and an iPad screen.

Haben: —called Structured Negotiations: A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits. And she’s always following the latest in accessibility features. When she shared Live Captions with her dad, he called her a genius.

Haben has her iPhone in her hand with Lainey, in a black, collared button up, on FaceTime. Live Captions appear on the screen above Lainey’s head as she talks.

Lainey Feingold: Hi, everybody! I’m Lainey Feingold and I’m a disability rights lawyer and a friend of Haben. I want to tell you a story about my dad. My dad is 91. He is doing great, he still works a little, he’s super enthusiastic. And when I went to visit him last time, I was thinking about how could I help him when he’s making phone calls? Because he is very hard of hearing and when he watches television, he only uses captions. He never turns on the sound. So when I went down to see him, I turned on the Live Captions already built into the iPhone. Already free. Already in his pocket. I can’t really tell you how excited he was, oh my goodness! He was so excited! He was so enthusiastic! He kept thanking me profusely and couldn’t believe he didn’t know about it before because now whenever he makes a phone call, whatever the other person says appears on his screen. And like I said, he works a little, so he really doesn’t like interrupting work calls to have to say he can’t hear. Super excited! It’s been about a month now. He still tells me how grateful he is, how much he appreciates it. So, I’m just now telling everyone I know about Live Captions.

Haben: Do you have any tips for people who are afraid about learning new technology? How do we introduce Live Captions and other accessibility to elders who are nervous about new technology?

Lainey: I think the trick is helping as much as we can and letting people know it’s okay to make mistakes. I myself am an elder. I consider myself an accessibility elder. I’ve been in this space for many, many years, since the mid 1990s. My dad is 91 and I’m going on 68. So, I know that when we make mistakes we think it’s our fault. And I think the best we can do is say, “Here’s this cool new thing. It’s going to be really easy once you get the hang of it.” And when you turn on the Live Captions, at first there were some like, how do you see it? And what if it’s blocking the text? And I was just there to walk my dad through it. And he was excited to learn, really, he was so excited!

Haben: Any final comments or wisdom you want to share to people who are introducing tech features to their elders?

Lainey: Uh, you know, what I’d like to say is that it’s also true for those of us who either are new to the elder side of things or don’t yet consider ourselves elders. There’s always so much to learn. And if we keep an open mind and open heart and curiosity, the technology can really help us do our things, have our phone calls, get things done, have fun. So, I really encourage everyone to explore the accessibility options.

Haben is in front of the vibrant blue wall, Mylo resting behind her.

Haben: Tech news keeps changing all the time and sometimes we miss cool features like this. There are probably a lot of people in your community who could benefit from this feature. Share this with your elders!

Sweet Juliet, Free of Planned Obsolesce

Haben feeds paper into her Juliet Pro Embosser
A Blind Woman Brailling Like It's 1995

This Juliet embosser helped me through college and law school. She followed me from Portland to Boston to Oakland, and dents along her surface commemorate each trip. Newer, lighter, flashier Braille printers exist, but this still works for me.

Descriptive Transcript

I’m feeding paper into a large machine, about two feet long and a foot deep. A keypad on the right has print and braille.

Haben: This is a Juliet Braille Embosser. She’s 16 years old. It’s impressive it still works.

(Haben presses keys.)

Juliet Embosser: (Buttons beeping) (Machine gears turning, paper scraping) Printer (inaudible) out of paper. Press EV to stop tones. Paper out is clear. The Printer is online.

Haben: It still pounds out braille so people can read braille.

(Loud mechanical pounding. Haben reaches behind the embosser and reads a few words on the page.)

Haben: And by people I mean me. A lot of tech these days is designed with obsolescence and it stops working almost immediately. It’s my hope that we’ll get more tech that lasts 16 years, 30 years, so people can keep using products that help make their lives better.

A Bias Challenge at the Exploratorium

A Bias Challenge at the Exploratorium

Can you get past assumptions of what a drinking fountain should look like? The Exploratorium, a science museum in San Francisco, has a sign saying both fountains are safe. Which one would you sip from?

Most people pick the traditional fountain. The exhibit invites people to notice that we all have internal biases, even ones we didn’t know about like fountain bias. Overcoming fountain bias is hard, but people can, And do, shed old assumptions.

Descriptive Transcript

(I’m standing between two fountains. One has a small, metallic-looking basin below a water tap. The other is a porcelain toilet with a water tap attached to its seat. A sign behind me says, “A Sip of Conflict,” and additional text too small to read. I’m signing for part of the video. My guide dog Mylo is standing in front of me, looking around the museum.)

Haben: Are you thirsty? Do you want water from a traditional fountain or from a toilet-shaped fountain?
(Close up of the toilet-shaped fountain.)
Haben: Both of these water fountains dispense perfectly clean water. The porcelain toilet is unused. The question is…
(Standing between the fountains, I raise both hands up in a questioning shrug.)
Haben: Can you flush out bias?
Haben (voicing audio description): A man leans over and drinks from a water fountain shaped like a toilet.

Learning Italian Sign Language at a Deaf-owned wine bar in Italy

Do you learn new sign languages when you travel? One of my favorite memories from Italy: getting to know Barbara Voyageuse Verna, a Deafblind woman who is working to establish a Deafblind association. We met up at the Deaf-owned Ânma winebar in Reggio Emilia. The warm space, with its scrumptious snacks and drinks, welcomes people with all the different ways we communicate — signing, voicing, typing on a phone, or writing with a pencil. I walked in not knowing any Italian Sign Language, Lingua dei Segni Italiana, and walked out with some LIS and new friends.

Descriptive Transcript

Inside a well-lit wine bar, I’m sitting beside Barbara, my left hand over her right hand as she signs. When I sign, she watches visually. We smile and nod throughout the conversation. The bar is noisy, with lots of people speaking Italian. Barbara and I are not voicing as we sign, but for accessibility voicing was added to the video later. Thank you to Laurie Clough for her dubbing!

Barbara: I will sign in ASL, you sign in Italian Sign. Right?
Haben: Yes!
Barbara: OK.
Haben: SÌ.
Barbara: Yes.
(Both laughing).
Barbara: Welcome. You.
Haben: Benvenuto.
Barbara: Good night.
Haben: Buona notte.
Barbara: Buon— Ah! Sorry. (laughing) Good morning.
Haben: Buongiorno.
Barbara: Good afternoon.
Haben: Buona notte.
Barbara: Wrong. Buon pomeriggio.
Haben: Buon (Laughing) you!
Barbara: Buon pomeriggio.
(Both laughing).
Barbara: I’ll teach you more. Hmm. Water.
Haben: Water.
Barbara: Here in Italy it’s acqua.
Haben: Acqua.
Barbara: SÌ! Yes!
Haben: Water, acqua.
Barbara: Wine.
Haben: Wine.
Barbara: Here in Italy, it’s vino.
Haben: Vino.
Barbara: SÌ! (Clapping)
Haben: (laughing) Thank you!
Barbara: Wine. W – I – N – E.
Haben: That’s important!
Barbara: (laughing) Right! Important in Italian culture! Casa. Home, home. Casa.
Haben: Home. Casa.
Barbara: SÌ! Woman. Sign, donna.
Haben: Donna.
Barbara: SÌ! Man. Sign, uomo.
Haben: Uomo.
Barbara: SÌ!
Haben: Thank you for teaching me!
Barbara: Wow! Wow, you’re fast! F – A – S – T. A fast learner, wow! I’m surprised because many-
Haben: You’re a bene teacher!
Barbara: You’re a good student. (Laughing).

Visiting Albany Law School

My guide dog Mylo and I stand on a path leading up to a stately stone building. I’m wearing a warm coat and signing ILY.

Visiting Albany Law School introduced me to many enthusiastic advocates, some who are new to accessibility and some who have been championing disability justice for years! Thank you, Albany, for inviting me to deliver the 2024 author lecture!

Reading, in Braille, from Haben: the Deafblind Woman who Conquered Harvard Law

The wall of Ethiopian spices made this the most aromatic reading I’ve ever done! As my hands glided across Braille, the tantalizing fragrances of Berbere, basil, and warm spiced butter formed an uplifting scent-scape. Cafe Colucci in Oakland generously hosted this book talk in their beautiful restaurant and spice shop. Thank you! I’m also grateful for Pam Johnson ASL interpretation. Last but not least, thank you to everyone who joined us for delicious food, drinks and stories!

The reading is an excerpt from Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma with a Forward by Stephen Curry.

Video Description: Pam Johnson stands beside me, signing in American Sign Language as I speak. I’m sitting at a table reading from a short stack of Braille pages, and my German Shepherd Seeing Eye dog Mylo rests by my feet. Holding a microphone for me, because I need two hands to read, is Daniel Aderaw Yeshiwas, our host and the manager of Cafe Colucci. Behind us stretch long shelves full of colorful bags of spices.

Angels of Impact

I’m sitting next to Laina, and between us is an oil lamp from Kerala — tall, brassy with a golden hue, and topped with a long-tailed bird.

How do we create a future where poverty exists only in museum exhibits? Before she became CEO of Angels of Impact, Laina Raveendran Greene studied this question in and outside the classroom. She volunteered and donated to charities, but surely there was more we could do? Laina authored the guidebook Sustainable Impact: How Women are Key to Ending … Read more

World Braille Day 2024

It’s World Braille Day! A blind teacher named Louis Braille created this tactile reading system, and now his birthday, January 4, is a day to celebrate this marvelous way to read!

Braille exists in multiple languages, and I recently had the honor of meeting Sabriye Tenberken, also blind, who invented and taught Tibetan Braille.

In the age of audiobooks and AI, do you think Braille reading will die?

Descriptive Transcript

(Sabriye and Haben are sitting next to each other in an auditorium, a sign behind them says, “Kanthari.” Sabriye is a white woman in her fifties with a German accent, and Haben is a Black woman in her thirties with an American accent. As Sabriye speaks, Haben is reading her words on a Braille display.)

Sabriye: So, what I really like about your approach is that you are such a Braille fan and I’m a Braille fan, too. We should both advocate for Braille and make sure that people don’t think that Braille is just old-fashioned, or something ancient. We should empower the blind to understand that Braille is a good old technology that should just be transported into the digital age.

(Typing sounds. Haben reads on the Braille display.)

Haben: There is digital Braille. We can continue modernizing Braille, and I have a Braille device right here that I’m using as a Deafblind person. It’s my access to spoken language as well as to books. Literacy starts with being able to touch the words. Being able to feel it with your fingers gives you so much more access, and I hope teachers continue teaching Braille all over the world.