Harvard Law School’s First Deafblind Graduate Fighting For Disability Rights And Inclusion In Hollywood

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She points out a number of great examples today in the media that show how disabled characters don’t have to be assigned a “single” story based only on their disability.

She uses the example of actress Treshelle Edmond in Netflix’s ‘Master of None’, a hilarious scene where a fictional couple, who both happen to be deaf, are having an argument in a public library about their sex life, using quite explicit references. After a few minutes, a nearby mother who also happens to be deaf uses sign language to chastise them for using such explicit terms in front of her young daughter who understands perfectly what they are communicating about.

n 2013 Haben became the first deafblind student to graduate from Harvard Law School and today as a civil rights attorney and activist has helped the forward momentum in the fight for greater and more robust disability rights. Born and raised in Oakland before first setting off for college in Portland, Haben has family roots in Eritrea, a country which her mother escaped from into Sudan as a refugee to flee political strife. Haben’s mother was determined to give her daughter a life of success in America where she could have the chance to thrive.

Growing up in Oakland California, you have spoken about how supportive teachers and classmates, as well as materials that helped you learn, made a big impact on your path to college. Would you say every child with disabilities has the same time of accessibility in school in the US?

The access I experienced went above and beyond what most students with disabilities experience. I wish more schools provided access for students with disabilities. Improving education access requires schools to invest in access. The local and federal government needs to provide schools with more funding to support access, and schools need to use the funding to increase opportunities for students. The culture needs to change, too. Teachers and school administrators need to treat disabled students as students worth teaching.

As a lawyer, you won a very important case for disability rights: National Federation of the Blind vs Scribd, which brought up larger conversations about the need for more technology companies to innovate in a more inclusive way. How would you talk about this being a civil rights issue and why it is so important today?

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Scribd originally pushed back, but it reached a settlement agreement with the NFB after the court ruled in our favor on the motion to dismiss. Tech companies need to make accessibility a priority.

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