Disability advocate says businesses missing out on 1.3 billion-strong market

  • Article from The National

    Haben Girma with Barack Obama in the White House in 2015. Pete Souza / White House.

    If businesses think more about accessibility, they can tap into a huge market of 1.3 billion people, says the global inclusion advocate Haben Girma, the first deaf and blind person to graduate from Harvard Law School.

    She will be speaking about accessibility and inclusiveness at Naseba Global WIL Economic Forum in Dubai on October 26.

    When people think of accessibility they tend to think about wheelchair ramps and lifts but Eritrean-American Ms Girma, 29, is more focused on the role of technology in driving inclusion – adding transcripts to online videos, descriptions to digital images and making Web text readable with screen readers or digital braille displays.

    Ms Girma was born in California after her mother fled Eritrea in the early 1980s. She has three siblings, of whom one is also deaf and blind but says she was lucky to grow up in the San Francisco Bay, the “heart of the disability rights movement”.

    That meant she was sent to a mainstream school that “valued diversity” and was given accessible technology such as a digital Braille device, which her brother had been denied in Eritrea.

    “It is still rare, even in the US, to get full access in schools,” Ms Girma says in a phone interview – in which a translator types my questions for her on to a normal Qwerty keyboard, which are converted for her into digital Braille on her own keyboard for her to then reply. “The employment rate is so low for people with disabilities and that’s not fair; barriers in schools and workplaces need to be removed.”

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