Haben Girma, both blind and deaf, is a disability rights advocate and attorney who became the first deaf and blind graduate of Harvard Law School in Massachusetts when she graduated with a Juris Doctor degree (JD) in 2013.
Girma was born on July 29, 1988, in Oakland, California to her mother, Saba Gebreyesus, who was a refugee from Eritrea. Gebreyesus fled the country in 1983 during the Eritrea War of Independence against Ethiopia. Girma’s mother and father, an Ethiopian whose name is unknown, met when both lived in Oakland. Girma was educated in the Oakland Public Schools where she benefited from the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, a civil rights law that outlawed discrimination based on disability. Girma learned braille while in school using a digital technology device that helped her read and absorb information faster than with the previous generations of Braille readers. When Girma was 15 years old and despite her blindness and deafness, she got the opportunity to travel to the West African nation of Mali to do volunteer work, helping to build schools with BuildOn, an Oakland nonprofit organization which ran youth service afterschool programs. The nonprofit also helped build schools in developing countries.
Girma attended Lewis and Clark College, a private liberal arts college, in Portland, Oregon. During her time at Lewis and Clark College, she was successful in persuading college officials to provide an accommodation so she could eat with other students in the school cafeteria.
Girma graduated from Lewis and Clark with her Bachelor of Arts Degree in 2010 and then entered Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was the first deaf and blind student to attend Harvard Law School and upon graduation in 2013 became the first deaf and blind student to graduate from that institution.
In 2013, Girma joined Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) in Berkeley, California where she specifically performed legal work for people with disabilities. She also worked with the National Federation of the