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  • Chris McMillan

Ethiopia: 'The Biggest Challenge Is Ableism, Not My Disability'

Ethiopia: 'The Biggest Challenge Is Ableism, Not My Disability'

Meet lawyer Haben Girma, a fierce advocate for disability rights

Standing across from the then US President Barack Obama at the White House, Haben Girma, appeared to be summing up in those words her long-life goal and passion: advocate for disability rights.

It was a warm day in July 2015 as the US celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a law that banned all discrimination based on disabilities and, among other things, mandated accessibility accommodations in the public space, including on public transport systems.

An "American with Eritrean and Ethiopian heritage, my ancestors shape who I am," was how Ms. Girma introduced herself during a conversation with Africa Renewal, early this month, almost six years after that ceremony at the White House.

"I am the first deaf-blind person to graduate from Harvard Law School," she remarked "and people think my disability challenged me."

She said: "the biggest challenge is ableism, not my disability." Then she almost instantly asked back: "do you know about ableism?"

The term 'ableism' is new to a lot of people, she says, and "that's ok." And she would come back to it several times during the conversation for emphasis.

Ableism, she explained "is the systemic oppression of disabled people, the actions and beliefs labeling them as inferior to other people."

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