Harvard Law School student Haben Girma ’13 was recently named a White House Champion of Change for her advocacy on behalf of deafblind individuals and her efforts in promoting educational excellence for African Americans.
Each week, the White House Champions of Change Program honors ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things in their communities. Girma, who is deafblind, was honored on Feb. 26 along with nine other individuals whose work advances academic success for African Americans.
At a White House reception, which included U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, award winners discussed important changes in education that would help students across the country. During her presentation, Girma stressed the importance of high quality teachers for students with disabilities, the invaluable support of state deafblind projects, and the need for schools to consider accessibility when investing in emerging technologies.
Award winners also attended the African American History Month reception at the White House, where musician Stevie Wonder applauded Girma’s work and encouraged her to become a UN Messenger of Peace.
Originally from San Francisco, Girma has worked zealously to achieve equal opportunities for Americans with disabilities, beginning with her leadership in the National Association of Blind Students. During her time at Harvard Law School, she has worked with the Cyberlaw Clinic and the Disability, Veterans and Estate Planning clinic.
Girma was recently named a Skadden Fellow at Disability Rights Advocates. She will focus her fellowship on improving education for students with disabilities by litigating high-impact cases to compel schools to provide accessible instructional materials, and empowering students to become self-advocates through the creation and distribution of guides for blind and other print-disabled students.
In 2009, her advocacy work took her to Costa Rica where she served as a U.S. delegate for Mobility International’s U.S./Costa Rica Disability Rights and Leadership Exchange. In the summer of 2010, she joined DeafBlind Young Adults in Action in Washington, D.C. to meet with members of Congress and their staffs to promote policies affecting deafblind persons.
Girma, who works to educate the public about essential civil rights issues, also received an invitation to the White House Celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act, where she met President Barack Obama ’91.
In a White House Champions of Change blog post, “After Helen Keller: Empowering Students with Disabilities,” Girma wrote: “Dedicated teachers are essential to a good quality education, especially for students with disabilities. I strive to kindle the passion of those who have chosen this sometimes stressful yet incredibly valuable career, and inspire students to learn the secret to success that is self-advocacy.”