Surfing with your Heart: Deafblind Attorney Dares to Ride the Waves

“I can’t do that” is something you should never say.

Just look at Haben Girma, a deaf-blind American who graduated from Harvard Law in 2013. Today, she works as an attorney in California at Disability Rights Advocates, a non-profit group dedicated to protecting the civil rights of individuals with disabilities. Oh, and did we mention she surfs ? Girma is a true testament of the human spirit, rising well beyond the means she was afforded early in life.

Haben Girma with President Obama. Photo courtesy of http://www.chambers-associate.com/

Haben Girma with President Obama. Photo courtesy of http://www.chambers-associate.com/

Born in California, Haben Girma is the daughter of an Eritrean refugee who was forced to flee her home of Eritrea in the 1980’s. Growing up, she was fortunate to have great accessibility to technology that helped her communicate, and learn just as well as many of her classmates. Although she credits the use of these technologies to much of her success today, her true success lies in her tenacious spirit.

With the help of Maui surf academy, she dared herself to ride the waves in Encita, California according to the Washington Post. Being deaf and blind, she usually communicates through a device that converts braille into sounds. Since she isn’t able to bring the device into the water, she communicates purely through physical cues with her instructor. Regarding her surfing experience she says: “Success comes about through lots of failure, and i’m not afraid to fall, i’m not afraid to get in the water, try something new and look silly for a little bit because in the end we’re going to learn something and develop skills in the process.” Despite her astounding barriers, she was able to surf the Californian waves with resolution and grace.

Haben is passionate about improving accessibility to communication technology to people with disabilities. As a lawyer she fights to make sure people with disabilities have a proper education. She stresses the importance of adequate funding, well-qualified teachers, and state-run deafblind projects. For her advocacy, she was named a Champion of Change by the White House, meeting and even hugging President Obama.

In an interview with Reuters: “One of the biggest barriers facing people with disabilities are negative attitudes. People assuming that people who are blind can’t do something, or people who uses a wheelchair can’t do something; but anything is possible.” says Haben Girma. Everyone in their life faces moments of adversity that just seem too difficult to overcome. When you feel this way, make sure to think of Haben Girma. She faces adversity with grace, aptitude, and inner strength.

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