Full text of Disability Rights Advocate Haben Girma’s talk: Public Service Lawyers as Pioneering Advocates at TEDxBaltimore 2014 conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Public service lawyers as pioneering advocates by Haben Girma at TEDxBaltimore 2014
My name is Haben Girma. I work as a Skadden Fellow at Disability Rights Advocates. In other words, I’m a lawyer.
What’s a lawyer? Well, there are many stereotypes, negative stereotypes of lawyers: People who never give you a straight answer; people who just want your money; people who aren’t even people, they’re sharks.
These images are so strongly imbedded in our culture that people tell me, half-joking, “I don’t like lawyers.”
When people think of lawyers, they really think of just one type of lawyer. Think about it, imagine, when you envision a lawyer, what do you see? Do you see a woman? Is that the first thing that comes to mind? How about someone using a wheelchair? Do you see someone who is deaf and signing? Or even, do you see someone who’s nice?
There are many types of lawyers, and public service lawyers are changing what it means to be a lawyer. These are people who work and advocate for communities they love. For some of these lawyers, personal experiences fuel the desire to put an end to widespread injustice. People who experience challenges sometimes develop strengths that make them great advocates.
Lawyers take experiences of poverty, race, gender, disability, or other forms of discrimination, and use that knowledge as a ladder for legal advocacy. For me, a lifetime of needing to advocate for myself — prepared me for the field of law. My disability is deafblindness. Helen Keller paved a path of possibilities for deaf-blind children and adults who came after her. These individuals need to move forward as pioneers, in a world designed for people who can see and hear.
Many members of minority groups move forward as pioneers. The process of pioneering one’s way through obstacles builds strong self-advocacy skills that can be used in the field of law or other forms of advocacy.