[nfbmi-talk] How A Deaf-Blind Lawyer Uses Technology To Represent Her Disabled Clients |

Terry D. Eagle terrydeagle at yahoo.com
Wed Dec 31 23:39:22 UTC 2014

How A Deaf-Blind Lawyer Uses Technology To Represent Her Disabled Clients | 

Above the Law
Dec 4, 2014 at 12:08 PM
Technology today's tech

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
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
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.
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
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
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

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
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
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,
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
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

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


Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and Director of Business and
Community Relations at
MyCase, web-based law practice management software. She's been
Blogging since 2005, has written a
weekly column for the Daily Record since 2007, is the author of
Cloud Computing for Lawyers,  co-authors Social Media for Lawyers: the Next
Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York.
She's easily distracted by the potential of bright and shiny tech gadgets,
along with good food and wine. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack

More information about the NFBMI-Talk mailing list