Today’s Tech: How A Deaf-Blind Lawyer Uses Technology To Represent Her Disabled Clients

Haben Girma isn’t your typical lawyer. For starters, she’s a Harvard Law graduate. But that’s not all. She was also named a White House “Champion of Change” in 2013. To top it off, she serves as a Skadden Fellowship Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. Pretty impressive for someone who is only 26 years old — especially when you consider she’s both deaf and blind.

That’s right — Haben is a deaf-blind lawyer. But she hasn’t let her disabilities get in her way. If, despite her pedigree, you remain unconvinced of her tenacity, listen to her recent TEDx talk where she discusses her education and her advocacy work at DRA. If, after watching her speak, you’re not blown away by her dedication and perseverance, then I’m not sure what will impress you.

According to Haben, none of her achievements would be possible if it wasn’t for technology:

“It would be significantly harder for me to practice law without the technology available to me today. I rely heavily on screenreaders to read text and the braille display is crucial for communication.These technologies offer opportunities and allow for an independence that did not exist in the past. It’s really exciting how new technologies open up new opportunities.”

Without access to a number of different types of technologies, Haben would be unable to accomplish her work for DRA, an organization that provides free legal representation to people with disabilities whose civil rights have been violated. Her work for DRA helps people with the full spectrum of disabilities including mobility, sensory, cognitive, and psychiatric in complex, system-change class-action cases and is something she’s always wanted to do.

“I applied to law school with the mission of becoming a disability rights lawyer,” she says. “While looking for fellowships during my last year of law school I learned about DRA and the amazing work they do removing access barriers through high impact litigation. The Skadden Foundation awarded me a two year fellowship working alongside the experienced disability rights attorneys at DRA.”

For Haben, the fellowship is the perfect fit. However, her work would be impossible if she did not have access to key technologies which allow her to read and communicate with her colleagues and DRA’s clients.

For reading, she uses a tool called VoiceOver, a technology provided by Apple that makes the information found on a computer screen and obtained from a computer accessible to those who cannot see it. Haben explains how she uses it in her practice:

One technology that I rely heavily on is the VoiceOver screenreader for the Mac and iPhone. The screenreader outputs visual information on the screen into audio format or digital braille. The screenreader allows me to write memos, email, and conduct legal research on the computer.

Another way that Haben uses technology is for communicating with others, whether by phone or in person.

For communication, I use a braille display paired with a bluetooth QWERTY keyboard. An assistant transcribes audio content during phone calls, conferences, meetings, and I read the captions real-time on my braille display.

Twenty-first-century technologies are what make her inspirational efforts possible, but it’s her determination and drive that allow her to be so successful. Whether she’s fighting for the rights of others with disabilities at DRA or advocating to make TED talks more accessible to everyone, she’s using technology and working hard to make the world a better, more equitable place for those with disabilities, both online and off.

When I asked her if she had any technology advice for other lawyers, it came as no surprise that her parting wisdom was designed to help other lawyers with disabilities:

Lawyers with print disabilities should approach technology creatively. Sometimes you can find a way of using emerging technologies in a new way that enhances your practice. Take time to experiment with various options and explore the possibilities.

So, learn from Haben’s example. Think outside the box, take advantage of technology, and don’t let anything get in your way.

Thanks to Above The Law for publishing this.  To read their original article, please click here.