In ordinary times, people with disabilities are regularly confronted with ableism, or in the words of Disability Rights Lawyer Haben Girma, “the widespread assumption that disabled people are inferior to non-disabled people.” During the coronavirus pandemic, this assumption becomes life threatening.
“One of the things I’m most concerned of is discrimination in the medical field,” said Girma during a Time100 Talks segment. “We’ve heard of so many stories of disabled people being denied care because of assumptions of our quality of life.”
In 2013, Girma became the first deaf-blind student to graduate from Harvard Law School. a condition that is estimated to impact 45,000 to 50,000 Americans.
Today, the 32-year-old lawyer advocates on behalf of those with disabilities. Named a White House Champion of Change, Girma has been honored by President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Girma says it’s those with disabilities that are driving innovation. She points to the story of rumored Italian lovers—Pellegrino Turri and Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano—as proof. During the 19th century, Turri invented one of the first typewriters for Fantoni da Fivizzano, his blind friend. During this period, long-distance correspondence for blind people often involved the dictation of their letters for someone else to write. Gifted with a typewriter, Fantoni da Fivizzano was able to correspond with Turri on her own.
“Disability drives innovation, love also drives innovation,” said Girma. “Disabled people are incredibly adaptive.”
Below is a transcript with audio descriptions of Haben Girma’s Time100 Talk.