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How a deaf, blind Harvard graduate is influencing Apple

How a deaf, blind Harvard graduate is influencing Apple
From Mashable - March 22, 2018

Texting a friend when you are in the same room is not that unusual. But interviewing someone over text when you are staring them in the eyes does not feel right.

For Haben Girma, communicating with keyboards is simply a necessity. Girma, 29, is deaf and blind; she was born that way. But none of that prevented her from speaking at two packed panels during South by Southwest last week and taking a few minutes to chat with me.

"Hi Haben, I am Kerry, reporter for Mashable," I typed on a keyboard that was placed in front of me outside of a conference room at the Hilton Austin Downtown to talk with Girma. I had slowed down my typing and prayed that the message went through without typos, or at least was clear enough.

In just a few seconds, Girma asked with a sense of excitement in her voice, "Are you going to write about this?"

"Because we need more attention. You can help us!" she added.

Girma was not speaking about she herself, but rather about the topic of her panel. Just minutes earlier, she had been part of an official SXSW panel titled, "Y35 W3 C4N: Innovations in Accessibility." Girma, along with Betsy Furler of Bridging Apps; Richard Ellenson of the Cerebral Palsy Foundation; and Sarah Herrlinger, Apple's accessibility director, spoke about the need for more commitment to accessibility in tech by businesses and entrepreneurs.

"The biggest [issue] is awareness," Herrlinger said on the panel. "I could go do a presentation in front of 1,000 people about accessibility and people would come up and say you should talk about this more."

The week prior, Apple had hosted its first in-school coding class for students at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Each of the participants wrote code that helped them fly drones, Austin American-Statesman reported.

Herrlinger told Mashable after the SXSW panel that Apple plans to do more events under its initiative "Everyone Can Code," which could include Apple stores and more specialized schools. (Apple will be hosting an event in Chicago on education March 27.)

For Girma and Herrlinger, talking about and working directly with accessibility in the tech industry is a part of their daily lives. What they both want is for everyone to be a part of the disability conversation.

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