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Dean's Speaker Series Featuring Haben Girma, the First Deafblind Graduate of Harvard Law

Haben Girma pioneers her own way through the unknown every day. The first Deafblind graduate of Harvard Law, Girma is an advocate for accessibility for people with disabilities. On Monday, November 11, the Pepperdine Caruso Law community welcomed Girma for the Dean’s Speaker Series for what Dean Caron described as a “mesmerizing” talk on the importance of accessibility and inclusion of all people. 

Girma defines disability as an opportunity for innovation. “It’s society that creates barriers,” she explained, “and all of you have the skills and talents to create a more inclusive world.” With 1.3 billion people worldwide living with disabilities, Girma discussed how disability touches all of our lives at some point, and it’s critical that we invest in accessibility through the nexus of education and technology. Addressing a room full of law students, Girma noted, “It’s much easier to choose inclusion rather than risk litigation.”

Technology, she explained, has so much power to reduce barriers. Using a braille computer connected to a wireless keyboard, Girma receives both visual and audio descriptions of her environment and is able to communicate seamlessly with others. She displayed an uncanny ability to feel the energy of the room and fill it with laughter and inspiration. She captivated the audience by recounting her experiences of learning to surf, salsa dancing, and graduating from law school. Following her talk, Girma welcomed students to come forward and type questions to her.

In her new book Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law, “Girma takes readers through a thrilling game of blind hide-and-seek in Louisiana, a treacherous climb up an iceberg in Alaska, and a magical moment with President Obama at The White House,” and she goes on to describe the ways in which she fights for inclusion of people with disabilities: “Inclusion is a choice. When you choose to be inclusive, you model that for everyone around you. We deserve dignity and access at every stage of our lives.”

Pepperdine Caruso Law is proud to host advocates like Haben Girma who believe in the power of communities to create justice. She concluded with a simple reminder that we all face the choice to accept unfairness or advocate for justice and that separate is neverequal. 

Established in 2019, the Dean’s Speaker Series brings speakers from diverse backgrounds with various experiences in the legal profession to campus to share meaningful conversation and insight. Pepperdine Caruso Law will welcome its next speaker, US Solicitor General Noel Francisco, on January 30, 2020.