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My Story: Why am I talking about My Disability Now?

My Story, Why Now?There are some words I don’t like. Abelism. Can’t. Disabled. As a matter of fact, I have a whole list of words that I don’t like but I have listed the top three.

But why am I now sharing and posting that I am a deaf speaker at the upcoming Wordcamp Atlanta? No, I am not promoting ableism. But it is partly who I am. I am deaf and was born this way.

I get astounded when someone says something along the lines of, “you can’t possibly” . . . <insert something that you think a deaf person cannot do> Oh yes, I still hear them. My battles of fighting to prove others are long gone. I no longer feel the need to prove to anyone that I am just as good or capable as a “hearing person.” But as a young child growing up mainstreamed in a public school system, that was my mantra. I felt that I had to prove that I was just like “them.” Despite being bullied and being told that I can’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t – I still managed to make it on the honor roll, make into college prep classes, earn two college degrees – all without assistance of interpreters, note takers or assistive technologies that were available. (if I only knew!) I kept up my competitive nature and drive into adulthood up until I was almost forty years old. Then I had an epiphany.

Proving to others was doing nothing in return for me. Sure, it may have proved that I am smart, hard worker, and could do anything I put my mind to it. It got to the point that I began to question everything I was doing. Was I doing these things because I wanted to do these things? Did I enjoy these things? Did these things bring passion in my life? At the end, I lost the sense of who I am. Today I am still piecing myself back together, defining myself. It is a story that is still being written.

When I look back – the biggest lesson of all, it allowed me to learn a lot about myself and what I was capable of.

Haben Girma, an author, speaker of Disability Rights, said it best, “Disability is never the barrier. It’s the environment that’s the barrier.”

I am talking about my disability because I want to increase awareness about “accessibility on the Internet.” If anything, talking about it is to put a face, a real person behind a cause for a better future.

I am not talking not just my disability, but all disabilities. Hence “ableism” should be discussed. Discussing ableism will bring about inclusion within organizations, increased hiring, improved access at facilities and finally, usable design or accessibility on the Internet. It is 2018 and we can do better.

My topic at Wordcamp Atlanta, “Making the Case for Accessibility” will focus on three key points: It is good business, it is good design, and it is a moral and legal thing to do.   I won’t be getting into the how’s and technology aspects of it – we have two other fantastic speakers who follow after me will be doing that – Kim Camp Smalley and Melanie Adcock.

I promise to be entertaining, and enlightening. Look forward to seeing you in April!


What is the Difference between Accessible, Usable and Universal Design?

Habin Girma

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