You’ve written about why you decided to become a disability rights lawyer specifically, but what was it that drew you to the law initially? – As a Deafblind student in college, I witnessed advocates using the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to change social attitudes. The National Federation of the Blind regularly referenced the ADA when explaining to technology developers why designing access for people with disabilities is a necessity and not some optional cherry atop the Silicon Valley sundaes. I heard how the National Association of the Deaf used the ADA to increase closed-captioning online, and how Disability Rights Advocates used the ADA to compel Target’s tech team to make target.com accessible to blind Americans. Impressed by the success of these advocates, I felt inspired to join them. Back then, and even now, I encountered many barriers in the digital world. Not because of my disability, but because of attitudes among tech developers that trivialize access for people with disabilities.
Learn more through my TEDx Baltimore talk, Public Service Lawyers as Pioneering Advocates.
If you could change one thing about the legal industry, what would it be?
Law firms need to increase hiring of people with disabilities. Having a diverse team on staff increases a law firm’s ability to find solutions for difficult problems.
You have accomplished a tremendous amount in your life thus far; what achievement are you most proud of?
I represented the National Federation of the Blind in a lawsuit seeking to get the digital library Scribd to make its services accessible. Because of the design of the Scribd website and apps, blind readers could not access many of the books and documents. Scribd argued that it didn’t have to make its services accessible, claiming the ADA doesn’t apply to websites and apps. Disagreeing with Scribd, the Court ruled in our favor. “Now that the internet plays such a critical role in the personal and professional lives of Americans, excluding disabled persons from access to covered entities that use it as their principal means of reaching the public would defeat the purpose of this important civil rights legislation,” the Court wrote. Scribd soon agreed to make its digital library accessible. Working on this groundbreaking case to help blind readers gain access to books was one of the most rewarding moments in my legal career.
In 2016 I stopped litigating cases to focus instead on educating organizations on the benefits of choosing to practice inclusion.
If attendees could take one thing from your presentation, what do you hope it will be?
The Americans with Disabilities Act applies to online services. Lawyers and their clients need to make their websites and apps accessible. Guidelines exist to help you make your information accessible. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 is a set of technical standards for making websites accessible to people with disabilities. To design accessible mobile apps, refer to the iOS and Android accessibility guidelines for developers. Programming for accessibility generally does not change the appearance of websites and apps. The Americans with Disabilities Act forgives those companies for whom accessibility changes would amount to an undue burden. The ADA balances all interests, ensuring creativity in the tech industry while protecting access for Americans with disabilities.
What are you most looking forward to at the Clio Cloud Conference?
I’m excited to visit New Orleans for the first time.
[Editor’s note: LexBlog is proud to be an official media partner for Clio’s annual Clio Cloud Conference. In the week leading up to the event, we will be featuring an exciting mix of content, including interviews with speakers, guest posts from Team Clio, and more. Thus far we have featured interviews with Andrea Evans, Nicole Abboud, and Doug Edmunds, as well as guest posts from Joshua Lenon, Andrew Gay, and Erin Hall. Today we’re thrilled to feature an interview with Haben Girma, who will be giving the opening keynote speech on Tuesday morning at 8:45 in Empire Ballroom A and B. Girma is a leading advocate for global inclusion, with a specific focus on disability rights advocacy. She was the first deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School and was named a White House Champion of Change, and recognized as one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30. You can find more information about her on her website and can follow her on Twitter @HabenGirma, Instagram, and Facebook.]