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Haben Girma: Disability as an Opportunity for Innovation

On February 9th, Brown University Student Accessibility Services invited human rights lawyer and disability justice advocate Haben Girma to speak about the universal benefits of inclusive design.

Disability Drives Innovation

In a stirring and pointed presentation, Girma affirmed the capabilities of the blind and disabled while condemning social conditions that prevent individuals of all walks of life from flourishing. “Blind and disabled people have come up with solutions all throughout history,” she said. “This is normal. What’s not is society not respecting or downplaying those innovations because they come from disabled people.”

Girma attacked ableist discourses that manifest in everyday speech and prominent cultural narratives, that characterize people with disabilities as a burden on a society’s healthcare system or civil services. She turned the tables on these prejudiced views by defining disability as a productive opportunity for innovation.

Disability is Not a Barrier

Recalling the time when she wasn’t able to dance at a club in Washington, D.C. not because of her disability but because of the ableist beliefs held by the doorman of the club, Girma argued that people need to make active decisions to dismantle the barriers that lead to such predicaments. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has amplified digital obstacles to access and inclusion, building technological infrastructure that welcomes all needs to be a top institutional priority at universities like Brown and elsewhere.

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