KL014: Accessibility, Inclusion and Leadership

//KL014: Accessibility, Inclusion and Leadership

KL014: Accessibility, Inclusion and Leadership

Haben Girma
Disability Rights Lawyer and Speaker
Author of Haben—The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law
Accessibility, Inclusion and Leadership

Episode Summary
Haben Girma is the first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School. In this episode, we discuss Haben’s coming new book and her advocacy for equal opportunities for people with disabilities and why it matters for leaders.

Bio
The first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School, Haben Girma advocates for equal opportunities for people with disabilities. President Obama named her a White House Champion of Change. She received the Helen Keller Achievement Award, and a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Chancellor Angela Merkel have all honored Haben. Haben believes disability is an opportunity for innovation. She travels the world teaching the benefits of choosing inclusion. On August 6 she will publish her first book, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law.

Website
habengirma.com

LinkedIn
https://www.linkedin.com/in/habengirma/

Twitter
https://twitter.com/HabenGirma

Facebook
facebook.com/habengirma

Instagram
https://www.instagram.com/habengirma

Leadership Quote
“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

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Transcript

This podcast is part of the C Suite Radio Network, turning the volume off on business.

Welcome to The Keep Leading Podcast, a podcast dedicated to promoting leadership development and sharing leadership insights. Here’s your host, the leadership accelerator, Eddie Turner.

Eddie Turner:

Hello, everyone. Welcome to The Keep Leading Podcast, the podcast dedicated to leadership development and insights. I’m your host, Eddie Turner, the Leadership Accelerator.

Did you know that people with disabilities drive innovation? Did you know that people with disabilities represent the largest minority group numbering 1 billion worldwide? I did not know those things until I heard about Haben Girma, a leading voice on disability, innovation and leadership. Haben is going to tell us the reason it is absolutely imperative that if we are going to be great leaders, we need to understand the importance of accessibility and inclusion. So accessibility, inclusion, and leadership, we’ll learn about this and more from the amazing Haben Girma right after this.

This podcast is sponsored by Eddie Turner LLC. Eddie Turner LLC delivers executive and leadership coaching, professional speaking, facilitation services, and management consulting across the globe. Eddie Turner LLC also creates voiceovers, serves as a master of ceremonies, as a panel and event moderator, and provides national media commentary. Visit EddieTurnerLLC.com to learn more.

Eddie Turner:

Hello, everyone. Welcome to The Keep Leading Podcast, the podcast dedicated to leadership development and insights. I’m your host, Eddie Turner, the Leadership Accelerator. I work with leaders to accelerate performance and drive impact.

Did you know people with disabilities drive innovation? Did you know people with disabilities represent the largest minority group numbering one billion worldwide? I did not know that until I heard about Haben Girma. She’s a leading voice on disability, innovation, and leadership. Haben Girma advocates for equal opportunities for people with disabilities and is the first deaf blind person to graduate from Harvard Law School. President Obama named her a White House Champion of Change. She received the Helen Keller Achievement Award and a spot on Forbes 30 Under 30 List. President Clinton, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Chancellor Angela Merkel have all honored Haben. Haben believes disability is an opportunity for innovation and she travels the world teaching the benefits of choosing inclusion. And on August 6 she’s publishing her first book entitled Haben – The Deaf Blind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law School.

Haben, welcome to The Key Leading Podcast.

Haben Girma:
Thank you, Eddie. I’m thrilled to be on the show with you.
Eddie Turner:

Well, I am more thrilled to have you here.

So, Haben, a lot of people are probably wondering how are we able to conduct this podcast interview at this time.

Haben Girma:
So, as you told everyone earlier, I’m deaf blind, I have limited vision and hearing. Deaf blindness encompass a large spectrum of vision and hearing loss, tons of diversity in our community, and we use all sorts of communication methods. Some people use sign language. Sometimes it’s close up sign if someone has a little vision. Sometimes it’s tactile sign where a person puts their hand on top of another person’s hand to feel the signs. Other people use technology, maybe using keyboards and visual displays like iPads and computers. I use a real computer with a keyboard and that’s what I’m using for communication here. So, as Eddie speaks, a typist is typing Eddie’s words and I’m reading the words real time on a digital Braille computer, then voicing back with my own voice.
Eddie Turner:
Thank you for sharing that Haben. So can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Haben Girma:
Eddie, my background is complicated and includes lots of different things. Which part of my background are you interested in?
Eddie Turner:
Perhaps the most striking things you think listeners would want to know.
Haben Girma:
Well, one of my many hats is that I’m an attorney. I grew up as a deaf blind person in a sighted hearing world. We know two things are not accessible and it doesn’t have to be that way. So I switched from being fed up and tired and feeling helpless like I couldn’t do anything about all the barriers to wanting to take the time to develop the skills so I could do something about the barriers and I studied legal advocacy at Harvard. When I graduated, I started working at a law firm that does disability rights cases, focusing on class action cases. I did that for a few years. Litigation is powerful. Litigation is one way to create change. Most companies don’t know about disability rates and inclusion and if they learn about it, often they’ll choose to make their services accessible because it’s actually smart business to tap into the disability market. There are over 1.3 billion people with disabilities around the world and that market is valued at over 8 trillion dollars. So it’s a really smart decision to choose to make your services accessible rather than waiting for litigation.
Eddie Turner:

Thank you Haben. Yes. Well, we want people to pay attention to those with disabilities because it’s the human thing to do and as a good leader every leader should consider that but you’re making the point for us that it’s also a good business decision. It drives a business’s profitability to look at this market. So thank you for sharing that.

Haben, let me tell people how I met you, how I learned about you. My best friend sent me a message while he was sitting in the audience while you were giving a speech to a major global consultancy. And my best friend, Carl Winchester, he said to me “Eddie, I am sitting here listening to one of the most inspiring people I have heard in a very long time.” That got my attention because if my friend Carl was saying that about someone, I said “I must know who this is.” He sent me an image of you on the stage and I did not recognize you but I started to look you up. And they came to me. I remember the striking photo of you with President Obama but, of course, I didn’t know who you were at the time. So that’s how I discovered you and I’m so happy that you agreed to come on the show because I want to share with people your message, just a little bit of what you share with that great firm. Can you share with us what your message is when you’re on the road speaking and advocating on behalf of those with disabilities?

Haben Girma:
The dominant story about disability right now is that people with disabilities are a burden on society. And if businesses ever think about disability, it’s often in terms of charity. I want to shift that story. I want companies just see disability as good business rather than charity and I want companies to see people with disabilities as people who drive innovation. Innovation happens when you bring in new perspectives, unique ideas. People with disabilities know how to problem solve and come up with new solutions. Those talents will add lots of value to a company. So it makes a lot of sense but a lot of people never really consider it. So my message is stop seeing disability as a problem. start Seeing disability as an opportunity for innovation.
Eddie Turner:

That’s a powerful message and I love how you said that. It’s very true. I hadn’t thought about it. You just said that that oftentimes it is only from a charity perspective that an organization will approach disabilities. I love how you are making the case that this is a strong thing that business people for all types of reasons should focus on and make it a part of their core operating principles.

Now some people may wonder how can an organization become more accessible?

Haben Girma:

Great question. There are many different aspects to accessibility. There’s physical accessibility. Make sure your physical space, your buildings, your stores are wheelchair accessible. There are guidelines for how to design for wheelchair accessible spaces. There’s stuff like making sure doorways are wide enough. If there’s stairs into the building, ensure that there’s a ramp or an elevator so that all aspects of the facility are available to everyone.

There’s also digital accessibility. Make sure websites and apps are accessible. People who are blind use computers through screen readers. Screen readers or software applications that convert graphical information on the screen to speech or digital Braille. There are guidelines that teach developers how to make the websites and apps accessible. There’s the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines for apps. There’s Android and Apple accessibility guidelines. And it’s often just making changes behind the scenes in the code. The visual layout usually does not change. So it won’t really change the appearance of your services but it’ll make them accessible to people who are using screen readers to access content. It also makes your content more discoverable to non-disabled people and disabled people. For example, if you add captions to your videos or transcripts to your podcasts, then more people will find your content because there’s more text associated with your content – search engine optimization. So digital accessibility features helps your content become more discoverable to everyone and gives you a larger audience.

Eddie Turner:

Uh oh. Haben, you just got me and it looks like you just put something else on my to-do list. I am going to have to start creating a transcript for my podcast. Thank you for sharing that with me and I’m sure many others will benefit.

And I like what you said there. I like everything you said but something you said there really resonates from the standpoint of I saw your video performance speaking to 4000 developers at Apple at their Worldwide Developers Conference. And anyone who’s following Apple knows that is a big deal. And for you to speak to them and address them says a lot about their positioning on accessibility but also how you speaking directly to the people at the heart of producing apps is so meaningful. Can you share with folks the illustration that you used when you told the developers about the importance of taking accessibility into consideration before designing an app?

Haben Girma:
So accessibility is more efficient if you plan for it. Design for access from the start. And the example is skyscrapers are more accessible if they have elevators and they’re more accessible both for disabled people and non-disabled people. Imagine someone building a skyscraper without an elevator. And then after the skyscraper is built, then realizing “Wait a minute, we should have added an elevator.” It’s going to be more costly and time consuming to add an elevator later rather than designing the skyscraper with an elevator and building it from the start. Same thing with accessibility. Sure you can add accessibility later but it’s much more efficient and saves you resources if you plan for accessibility for the start.
Eddie Turner:
Excellent. Thank you, Haben. Haben, we hear a lot about diversity and inclusion. Can you tell us what inclusion means for people with disabilities?
Haben Girma:
For people with disabilities, inclusion means being able to go to the service and being able to use it. Most of the apps in the app store, I can’t use because they’re not accessible. They absolutely can be made accessible but the developers haven’t taken the time to make it accessible. Or someone who uses a wheelchair wants to attend a concert. They go to the venue and realize it’s not wheelchair accessible or maybe they can get in but the only seating is way in the back or way in the front right next to the speakers were it’s way too loud. People with disabilities should have the same choices non-disabled people have. That’s true inclusion.
Eddie Turner:

Okay, thank you for sharing that as well, giving all of us something to think about as we are planning events or attending events how we can be more conscious to be inclusive of those with disabilities.

Haben, I do a lot of events for women’s organizations and for the National Diversity Council and I’ve had to learn through my work in these areas new terms and new shifts and language to be able to effectively operate in these areas. There’s some things I was saying that weren’t necessarily right. So is their language or terms that you hear people using in regards to their interaction with people with disabilities that you think we should correct in our communication as leaders with those with disabilities?

Haben Girma:
Personally, I recognize that everyone is at a different stage in their journey. Some people are at the very beginning and all the disability concepts are absolutely new. And it’s important to be kind and patient so they can move along on their journey. Other people are more advanced in their journey and familiar with all the different terms. And I respect that people move at different paces. So I don’t get offended if someone uses an interesting term. And one of the things that people discuss in the disability community is the term ‘Disability’. Many years ago advocates said ‘Use person first language. Say person with a disability, child with a disability rather than disabled person, disabled child” but now we’re hearing “Stop tiptoeing around the word. Just say what you mean. Say the word ‘disabled’. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t hide from the word. Of course, we’re people. We don’t need to use person-first language.” There’s still disagreement on that. I use both terms. I think using ‘disabled’ is more efficient than saying ‘people with disabilities’ or ‘person with disabilities’.
Eddie Turner:
Thank you, Haben. I was guilty of saying ‘handicap’. That’s the one word I had to learn to adjust and strike from my vocabulary. What would you say about that?
Haben Girma:
I think ‘disability’ and ‘disabled’. Yeah, it’s a good idea to strike out that word. Go for it.
Eddie Turner:

Okay. Thank you, Haben. I have done that already and I’m going to definitely stick with it now. So good to get that clarification from you and to help all of us elevate our language. And certainly the other thing that you said, being kind and being patient with each other, and certainly as we deal with our fellow human beings who are dealing with a disability. So, thank you, Haben.

What I would like to do now is just pause briefly for a word from our sponsors.

This podcast is sponsored by Eddie Turner LLC. Organizations who need to accelerate the development of their leaders call Eddie Turner the Leadership Accelerator. Eddie works with leaders to accelerate performance and drive impact. Call Eddie Turner to help your leaders one-on-one as their coach or to inspire them as a group through the power of facilitation or a keynote address. Visit EddieTurnerLLC.com to learn more.

This is Phil M. Jones, author of Exactly What To Say, Exactly How To Sell, and Exactly Where To Start and you’re listening to The Keep Leading Podcast with Eddie Turner.

Eddie Turner:

Okay, we’re back with Haben Girma. She is the first deaf blind graduate of Harvard Law School. She earned a spot on Forbes 30 Under 30 List. She is a President Obama White House Champion of Change designee. She’s a disability rights lawyer, an author, and a speaker.

So really happy to have you with us, Haben. And as we were going to our break, Haben was helping us as leaders use the right language when it comes to our communication with those with disabilities.

Haben, is there anything you would like to add to what you were saying to make sure that we use the right language as leaders with those with disabilities?

Haben Girma:
Start with the concept that disability’s medical conditions are a part of our bodies and if you frame the disability as negative, you are framing an essential part of a person’s life and experiences as negative. So try to switch away from that and instead use positive terms. For example, saying someone suffers from blindness is very negative and encourages pitying. Instead you could say someone is blind, someone experiences vision loss, someone exists with a specific medical condition. So be aware of the language you use. All of our bodies change as we age and we deserve dignity and access at every stage in our lives. When you grow older, you still deserve inclusion. If something happens in an accident, you still deserve dignity and respect. So let’s ensure that when we talk about disability, we remain respectful.
Eddie Turner:

Very good reminder, Haben. Thank you for adding further clarification to that for us.

Now talking about being included, you don’t let anything hold you back. I got to admit, I am a little bit of a scared person when it comes to being adventurous but when I saw the video of you out there surfing, when I saw that you are out there climbing on jungle gyms, I mean, you’ve traveled the world, you’ve even designed accessibility tools, where do you get the motivation to just do all these things and experiment without fear?

Haben Girma:
I have fear. I think fear is a very valuable emotion. It reminds us to pay attention and be careful. It’s a very helpful evolutionary emotion. It doesn’t need to hold you back. It just reminds you to pay attention. So when I feel fear, I ask myself what are the potential danger, what are the potential solutions to get past this. And when surfing I came up with tactile techniques to experience the ocean and connect with people when I’m out on the water. The jungle gym you described is actually a pretty amazing jungle gym. It’s a playground designed for adults in St. Louis, the City Museum. Amazing. Some people say it’s better than Disneyland.
Eddie Turner:
Wow! That is absolutely wonderful. So I’m going to have to take a page out of your notebook and start living my life a little more Fuller. It sounds like I’d be applauding myself.
Haben Girma:
Are you going to go to the City Museum, Eddie?
Eddie Turner:
You know what, I will do that before I go surfing. Yes, I will do it, Haben. I am going to do it.
Haben Girma:
Excellent. All right, listeners. You heard Eddie make a commitment, going to jungle gym at the City Museum.
Eddie Turner:

Oh my goodness, she just put me on blast. Alright, Haben, yes, I have now made a commitment I have to fulfill.

All right. So now I really want to talk about your book. I am excited and I want to encourage all my listeners to go out and get a copy of Haben. And tell us about your book, Haben. It’s coming out on August 6 but what else?

Haben Girma:
My book is called Haben – The Deaf Blind Woman That Conquered Harvard Law. It actually took many, many years to get to the point where I could imagine myself going to law school. When I was growing up, I did not think of myself as someone who would become an attorney. I could barely imagine getting through college. I had many adventures over the years from building a school in Mali in West Africa to climbing icebergs in Alaska. And each of those adventures helped me develop skills to problem solve, innovate, and come up with solutions. Harvard had not had any deaf blind student before at the law school but we worked together using an interactive process to come up with solutions – if one thing didn’t work, try another thing until you find a way to provide oral arguments, get the exams in accessible formats, do the internships over the summer. All of those things require creativity, patience until you find the right solution to make it work. And those skills are also valuable in business and leadership. And people with disabilities make for excellent leaders because they’re often developing these skills in our daily lives.
Eddie Turner:
That is powerful. And congratulations to you. I know that was not a small feat and, as you said, just to go to college at all but not only to go to college but to go to the top college in the world in many regards and to get a law degree. And many people who have seen the movie about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and what she went through at Harvard Law and now to see how far they have progressed and to the point of working with you and participating collaboratively and designing a method that you would be able to be successful, positioning you for success to get through the program and hold that Harvard Law degree. So congratulations to you and wonderful job by those folks there working with you.
Haben Girma:
Thank you. If you feel inspired, allow that emotion to drive you towards action. Everyone can do something to make our community more inclusive. Think about one thing you can do to make your community more inclusive. Eddie, for you, that would be providing transcripts for your podcast.
Eddie Turner:
Will do. Will do. And is there anything else that our listeners should know about the book? What should they be looking for? It’s your story but you’re going to give us more than you could give us obviously in the short timeframe we have here but anything else they should be looking for?
Haben Girma:
My book is designed to be both informative and fun and enjoyable. There are lots of amusing stories. Humor is a great way to connect with people. And I developed it in part because a lot of people feel uncomfortable with disability. They don’t know what to say. They don’t even know how to say hi. So developing humor, helping people feel comfortable is a way to create a bridge. And I do that too in the book. And then in the back of the book there’s an accessibility guide to help leaders think about what changes they themselves can make in their communities, companies to make it more accessible for people with disabilities. Then the company can take advantage or I should say tap into the disability market which helps revenue.
Eddie Turner:

Wonderful, wonderful. Yes, we want them to tap into it, not to take advantage. Yes, good.

So the other point that I wanted to take away from that, so we have a couple things to look for in your book, it’s going to be available in which formats?

Haben Girma:
I’m going to do the audio book. So it’s also going to be available in audio book. We’ll have the hard hardcover in print. Then we’ll also have accessible formats, digital, so Kindle, Apple books. And for those who read Braille, there’s going to be BRF which is a digital Braille format. And there are also several other digital formats that are accessible like Daisy. There’s an organization called Book Share which is a nonprofit that helps make books available to people with disabilities and my book will be available on the Book Share platform.
Eddie Turner:
Wonderful. And who will be reading the audio book for you?
Haben Girma:
I wasn’t clear. I’m going to read the audio book.
Eddie Turner:
Oh, excellent. I didn’t want to assume. I was hoping that was the answer but I know sometimes people pay someone else to do the reading. That’s fantastic. So people will be able to hear you tell your story in your own words. That’s wonderful.
Haben Girma:
Exactly because no one else’s qualified to tell my story. Only me.
Eddie Turner:

All right, I believe that. I believe that. And I know that people will really enjoy hearing from you directly.

I could talk to you for hours, Haben. There’s so many things going through my mind right now, so many things I would like to ask. What am I missing? Is there something that I should be asking you that you would like to share or that burning question that you probably hear over and over? What did I miss?

Haben Girma:
A lot of people say “You’re inspiring” and then the conversation stops. Inspiring can be a gateway if you think of it as a bird. “You’re inspired to …” and then think of the things you can do – make your website more accessible, increase hiring of people with disabilities. About 70% of blind people are unemployed. Many of them are talented and have college degrees and can be valuable assets to organizations. Hiring managers tend to assume that people with disabilities are incapable, assume that people with disabilities can’t use computers or can’t do many important tasks but we can. It’s absolutely possible. So we need hiring managers to stop making assumptions. If you’re not sure of something, just ask. You can ask a person “How do you use computers? What accommodations do need?” Questions are the ways we get answers.
Eddie Turner:
Wonderful. So what I hear you saying is do not listen to you, don’t read your book, and feel inspired and stop. You’re telling us that if we are inspired by you and your example, which we all should be, that we need to turn that into action. And so I personally am making a commitment that I am going to do a better job myself. And I also hear you telling us throughout this whole conversation that people with disabilities drive innovation, something I had never thought about before and, by extension, because they’re driving motivation and because you’ve had to make adjustments in your own life, you make great leaders.
Haben Girma:
Absolutely. Leaders need to listen to their communities and leaders need to be adaptive. Many people with disabilities are constantly adapting, adapting to changing medical conditions, adapting to changing environments. So those make for great leadership skills.
Eddie Turner:

Excellent. Very well said.

Haben, on The Keep Leading Podcast we always ask what advice would you give to leaders, what quote, what story would you like to share that allows leaders to keep leading.

Haben Girma:
When I was young, I read a quote that has influenced me ever since. The quote is “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I felt really frustrated by all the access barriers that I encountered as a deaf blind person in a sighted hearing world. Then at some point in college I realized “If I want more access, I have to create more access, I have to advocate for more access.” That quote helps people become a leader. So if you want to make this world better, be the changes you want to see in the world. Think about what you can do to create that change. Then work towards it.
Eddie Turner:

All right, very well said – “Be the change you want to see in the world” – and certainly, Haben, you are living that, you are a walking breathing example. And I am sure that all of my listeners who are hearing our conversation are now looking at themselves introspectively and saying “What we can do to remove barriers that we think that may be holding us back to get out there and embrace any challenges that we have and to push ourselves and those around us to higher levels.” So thank you for sharing that quote and thank you for sharing your incredible story. You are an inspiration, Haben, and I am certainly all the better for having spoken with you.

Where can my listeners learn more about you?

Haben Girma:
You’re welcome to check out my website HabenGirma.com and preorder my book so you can read more stories.
Eddie Turner:

Thank you, Haben. And we’re going to make sure we put a link directly to your website in the show notes. We’re going to put a link to how people can purchase your book and to all your social media profiles. We want folks to go out and please support Haben by purchasing her book, follow her on social media, and if you have an organization where you need to bring in speakers and you need legal advice about disabilities, advocacy, Haben Girma is the person you need.

Haben, thank you for being on The Keep Leading Podcast.

Haben Girma:
You’re most welcome, Eddie. Thanks for having me here.
Eddie Turner:

It was my pleasure.

And thank you. This concludes this episode, everyone. I’m Eddie Turner, the Leadership Accelerator, reminding you that leadership is not about our title or our position. Leadership is an activity. Leadership is action. It’s not the case of once a leader, always a leader. It’s not a garment we put on and take off. We must be a leader at our core and allow it to emanate in all we do. So whatever you’re doing, always keep leading.

Thank you for listening to your host Eddie Turner on The Keep Leading Podcast. Please remember to subscribe to The Keep Leading Podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen. For more information about Eddie Turner’s work please visit EddieTurnerLLC.com.

Thank you for listening to C Suite Radio, turning the volume up on business.

The Keep Leading!™ podcast is for people passionate about leadership. It is dedicated to leadership development and insights. Join your host Eddie Turner, The Leadership Excelerator® as he speaks with accomplished leaders and people of influence across the globe as they share their journey to leadership excellence. Listen as they share leadership strategies, techniques and insights. For more information visit eddieturnerllc.com or follow Eddie Turner on Twitter and Instagram at @eddieturnerjr. Like Eddie Turner LLC on Facebook. Connect with Eddie Turner on LinkedIn.

2019-07-01T12:02:27+00:00