This is the transcript of my podcast interview with the amazing Haben Girma. To listen to the recorded podcast, click here.
Transcript of Mitch Jackson Interviewing Haben Girma
[00:00:00] Mitch : Haben I had the pleasure of meeting you and listening to your story at the recent Clio conference in New Orleans. Your journey is amazing. Can you please share your story with my audience.
[00:00:15] Haben : My name is Haben. It’s great to be here. And you said today my story. I grew up in the same area. My parents are half American Ethiopia countries that are both in Africa. And when I was in college I decided that the way that I wanted have an impact in the world is to study law become a lawyer and see that the civil rights of people with disabilities. I’m also a person with a disability. I’m deaf blind and because of the way our society has been created. There are a lot of areas where people have disabilities that disability itself is not the problem the problem or the barriers created by society like buildings not designed to be wheelchair accessible, libraries that only offer information in print not audio or braille or other formats Web sites and apps that are not designed for people who are blind or deaf. Or have other disabilities. So what I do is I teach organizations how to make their services accessible so that they can reach more people and check and ensure access for people with disabilities.
[00:01:42] Mitch : I love that. And that’s one reason I wanted to have you on today’s podcast and hopefully we’ll share some ideas and some solutions for my audience that will help them help you and I do all of that.
[00:01:58] Haben : Excellent. So what’s one thing your audience can do to help me Mitch.
[00:02:03] Mitch : That’s what I’m going to be asking you. For example when you spoke from the stage at Cleo you shared stories and ideas that I’ve never really thought about with respect to disability and some of the challenges that you’re faced with on a daily basis. But you did say one thing that struck me and that is you said that you look at disability as assets. What do you mean by that.
[00:02:34] Haben : Different experiences offers new perspectives, new insights, new ideas and these different ideas drive innovation. So when you’re different you have something different to offer. And teams that have lots of different perspectives, lots of different life experiences. Those teams are stronger and they’re more likely to develop the next big thing. So if a company or organization wants to be innovative, they should have a diverse team which includes people with disabilities. A lot of the technologies we use today have been developed by people with disabilities. We don’t really hear these stories. They are hidden stories. But if we take the time to learn about our history well realize that disability differences are a big part of innovation.
[00:03:33] Mitch : Along those lines you mentioned that people with disabilities represent the largest minority group which numbers one billion people worldwide understanding this. What can businesses do to prioritize accessibility and create a better experience for the disabled especially when it comes to sight and sound.
[00:03:58] Haben : I’m glad you brought up the point about the size of the disability market. It is huge. 1.3 billion people with disabilities around the world and within the U.S. it’s about 57 million Americans with disabilities. So that’s a significant market. And when you design your services to make accessible you open yourself to this large population which brings in more business. There are also legal reasons to be accessible. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and the 88 Americans with Disabilities Act also applies to online services, web sites and Apps. So we shouldn’t really invest in making our services accessible so that we can reach more people and comply with the law. And some things to do to ensure that you’re accessible. You can tell your web developers about the Web content accessibility guidelines. Those are guidelines that help web developers make sure that Web sites are accessible. For app developers there’s the Android accessibility guidelines and the Apple accessibility guidelines. So those are some tools in the digital space and in the physical space there are architectural guidelines to ensure physical spaces are accessible to create resource for employees and employers is the job of companies should not work ask Jan J and dot o r g. And it gives lots of examples for employers and employees for workplace accommodations.
[00:05:48] Mitch : You shared some stories the last time I met you about how you’re using technology and maybe for people to understand why it’s important for online businesses to embrace new technology to make their products and services easier or more accessible to the disabled. You can share how you use these devices to communicate for example how we’re communicating right now. And I think that will give people a better understanding of why this is so important and why the ADA is so important.
[00:06:28] Haben : So when I talk about accessible Web sites and Apps, it’s about having mainstream accessible web sites and Apps not separate websites and apps for people with disabilities. Separate is never equal. So right now we’re doing this conversation through my smart phone which is an iPhone and it has built in accessibility all the different Apple products have built in accessibility. You go into general settings accessibility and you can turn voiceover on which allows the phone to talk back to you or it’ll connect with braille display which is what I use a braille display as a separate device where pins pop up on the display and you can run your finger over the display to feel the letters and through Bluetooth the braille display will connect to the sidebands tablets, desktop computers, laptops. So when someone Make’s their website or app accessible it becomes compatible with assistive devices that people use. It’s not just the Browns display I.
[00:07:45] Mitch : I love that in when you and I met we talked a little bit about wearable devices and sensory devices and I mentioned someone that I had watched during a TED talk similar to your TED talk and I was wondering if you had any thoughts about sensory devices or wearable devices to assist the disabled
[00:08:10] Haben : some disability office. A really fascinating design challenge. How can you tell time if you can’t see the face of your watch and if you use that as a design challenge. You can build a watch. Not only that so that blind people can use that but so that’s sighted people can also access the time without having to look down on their watch maybe they’re driving and want to check the time or maybe they’re in a meeting and want to be subtle about checking the time. So often the solutions we create for people with disabilities have benefits for the larger community and they’re people exploring this like the person you mentioned in the TED Talk looking at all the different ways we can build new devices that help individuals with disabilities and to help the greater community.
[00:09:06] Mitch : There are so many examples that you shared during your presentation and that you’ve talked about at your Web site which I’ll share in the show now it’s one of those examples didn’t have too much to do with technology but it had everything to do with a big tasty slice of chocolate cake. I was wondering if you could share that story with our audience.
[00:09:31] Haben : That’s a sweet story. When I was in college I was thinking about what I could do to be an advocate and help make my college more inclusive and I’m went to lose it in Portland Oregon. It’s a really good school. And I had a great time and had access to most things but there was one thing I was struggling to get access to and that was the cafeteria menu. The menu was posted on the ball in print. I couldn’t read the menu. My blindness isn’t the problem. Blindness didn’t prevent me from reading the menu. It was the format of the menu that was the problem. So I went to the cafeteria manager and explained. I’m not having access to the food choices here. I can’t read the menu. Could you provide it in another format like braille or posted online or e-mail it to me. And they told me they’re very busy and they don’t have time to deal with this. But as you can imagine it’s frustrating not to have access to information on the cafeteria where you’re paying to eat there. Sometimes they would serve chocolate cake and I wouldn’t know it was there. Then later my friends would be like oh did you enjoy the cake today. And I will be like what cake it was frustrating but at the same time I was like at least am going to school at least I have food. Who am I to complain. Why should I make a fuss about this. But over time frustration added up and I realized that it’s not even just about me. It’s about access for the whole community there. There could be other blind people who come to the cafeteria. There could be other people who would benefit from greater access to the menus. And my friends also reminded me that access is a choice. It’s up to all of us to choose to advocate for inclusion or to accept fairness. And if I want to advocate for inclusion and I wanted the world to inclusive that I’d have to do something about it too. So I went to the cafeteria manager and explained this isn’t about how busy you are this is about civil rights and the Americans With Disabilities Act. And they explained that the E-D prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Once I talked to them about the Americans With Disabilities Act and framed the issue as a civil rights issue. Everything changed. They started sending the menu in a digital format that I could read and suddenly I had access to the information. I knew when the cafeteria or chocolate cake or tardily or other to which I learned that when I meet teenagers when I act the (inaudible). It doesn’t just benefit me but it benefits the rest of the community. The following year another blind student came to the college. He had immediate access to the menu. He didn’t have to fight for access and that experience made me realize that they wanted to be a lawyer and go to law school and help make a difference for people.
[00:13:09] Mitch : That’s a fantastic story. That’s the reason my wife and I both became lawyers Haben and I don’t know if you know this but our daughter is in her second year of law school and she also wants to do the same thing so hopefully through this interview and through your message and everyone’s hard work will make the world a better place and more accessible for the disabled. But along those lines my question is you talked directly to the cafeteria manager to take care of that chocolate cake issue. How can all of us become better leaders on our own when it comes to creating change and creating more inclusion for the disabled in everyday business.
[00:13:57] Haben : The main thing is to take the initiative. Don’t wait for a lawsuit. Don’t leave to someone else to tell you to make something accessible. You can take the initiative. Look around your office take a study take a survey of your community members and find out what are the barriers What are the physical barriers for individuals with the mobility of disability. What are the digital barriers on your websites and apps for individuals with sensory disability or people with mobility disabilities who need specialized keyboards and specialized space. So take the initiative. Being (inaudible) to yourself. This will bring more business to your organization. It will save you resources in the long run. Litigation is very expensive. It’s better to choose inclusion because it will help bring more people and create greater access for you in your community.
[00:15:02] Mitch : When choosing inclusion are there any areas that you would like us to focus on sooner rather than later.
[00:15:12]Haben : I strongly encourage everyone to focus on digital access technology at the basics. It’s just ones and zeros and that information can be converted into any format. Best of all audio Braille when you design websites and apps to be accessible. More people can access your content. Access Disability Benefits non-disabled people to for example podcast that have transcripts, videos that have captions and transcripts. They have more text associated with the content which allows for increased content discover-ability through search engines. So it benefits you and it benefits the rest of the community.
[00:16:00] Mitch : I know I will definitely have this conversation transcribed as you recommend. I promise you that.
[00:16:11] Haben : Thank you. Mitch
[00:16:12] Mitch : But I do have a follow up question before we wrap up today. Do you place any emphasis on handheld mobile devices versus laptop or desktops. With respect to technology is there something that the disabled would you know they would prefer to use one rather than the other.
[00:16:35] Haben : I strongly advise. That everyone make everything accessible. So we want all devices to be accessible because people are different. Some people are going to prefer smaller handheld devices. Other people are going to prefer larger devices larger screens desktop computer the disability community is very diverse and will often surprise you and use things new ways for example a lot of people assume that blind people wouldn’t use cameras or take pictures. But we do take pictures we share moments we sometimes even take pictures to send to other people and find out what we’ve taken a picture of. So
[00:17:24] Mitch : What do you mean what do you mean by that.
[00:17:29] Haben : You know what I mean. I’ve had situations where maybe I’m in a new hotel room in a new space and there’s something and I don’t know what it is. I had an experience like this when I was in China in Beijing. I found it checked in my hotel room and I didn’t know what it was. So I took a picture of it with my phone and texted it to a friend and my friend was able to look at the picture and tell me it was Dragon fruit. Later I realized I liked dragon fruit. But up to that point I’ve never encountered dragon fruit before. So it was a strange new object. And because the iPhone’s camera App is accessible blind people can use it and take pictures. But there are tons of people who would just assume don’t bother making the camera accessible. Why would blind people ever use a camera. That we do use cameras so don’t assume what we can or can’t do instead strive to make everything accessible. I’m particularly thinking of self-driving cars I get a lot of the designers of self-driving cars aren’t thinking about blind drivers. So they’re going to build an interface. That. Requires vision. That is self-driving car inherently doesn’t need vision. So we should all remind designers to make everything accessible so that everyone can use it including self-driving cars.
[00:19:11] Mitch : That is a great message that I will help promote on your behalf in hobby and I just want you to know that are an inspiration for all of us. And I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us today and to share just a little bit of your story with my audience and I want you to know that Lisa and I and our family and friends were always here for you to help. Help do good in the world and help open doors. And equality when it comes to the disabled if anyone would like to reach out to you Haben whether they have a question or they’d like to interview or donate financially to some of your causes. What’s the best way for them to go about doing so.
[00:19:59] Haben : You’re welcome to check out my web site. I have a mailing list where I share many stories. I’m also on social media. And you can find all this information on my web site HabenGirma.com. That’s HabenGirma.com. If you feel inspired take the emotion of feeling inspired. And allow that feel action. You can make changes, we could all make our communities more inclusive. And I hope you’ll join me in doing so.
[00:20:36] Mitch : Haben Girma Thank you very much for your time. Thank you for being on my podcast and I hope the rest of your day and the rest of your week is a masterpiece. Thank you.
[00:20:47] Haben : Thank you Mitch and say hi to Lisa for me.