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Haben Girma Just Became The First Deafblind Graduate Of Harvard Law School But Doesn’t See Herself As ‘Inspiring’

Living with disabilities can be difficult but oftentimes the greatest difficulty comes from the limitations put on disabled people by their abled counterparts. Often, being disabled just means finding another way to do things; it doesn’t mean not being able to do these things at all. Disabled people don’t need to meet the abled world’s expectations because they are able to meet the world with their own.

This is something that disability lawyer Haben Girma wants everyone to understand about disability. Born deaf and blind, Girma has spent her life breaking boundaries, including becoming the first DeafBlind person to graduate from Harvard Law School.

Now, the advocate is sharing her amazing journey in the pages of a brand new book.

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Besides graduating from Harvard in 2013, the advocate has scaled glaciers, surfed the gnarliest of waves and met with president Barack Obama. All these accomplishments would be impressive for an abled bodied person but Girma’s disability adds an extra layer to this story. The expectation is that — because she is DeafBlind — these achievements should be impossible.

However, those limitations put on her because of her disability are not something she acknowledges. This is what she writes about in her newly released memoir, “Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law.” The book is now available in physical form and in an accessible audiobook.

“I hope people can move away from seeing people with disabilities as incompetent,” Haben shared in an interview with PEOPLE. “If we remove barriers, we can have great inclusion.”

It’s because of these imposed barriers and limitations that Girma dislikes the notion of being called “inspiring.”

Twitter / @HabenGirma

In “Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law,” the lawyer writes about her grievances with this concept. Too often, she says, inspiration is mistaken for pity. What she means by this is that her accomplishments should be appreciated because they are great, not because of her disability. The same could be said for any disabled person.

“Some people use it as a disguise for pity,” she writes. “They’ll say, ‘You’re so inspiring,’ but in their mind, they’re thinking, ‘Thank God I don’t have your problems.’ ”

Often, “inspiration porn” is spread across social media and it helps to explain why Girma dislikes being labeled as inspirational.

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In these posts, disabled people are usually shown doing average things. For example, when a child first walks with its prosthesis or a disabled person participates in a sport. What is supposed to make it remarkable is the person’s disability.

However, if you take the disability away and view the circumstance with an able-bodied person instead, there is no longer the element of “inspiration.” Disabled people like Girma don’t want to be seen as an inspiration solely because of their disability. They want to be acknowledged for their actual abilities, just like anyone else does.

It’s with this in mind that Girma travels the world speaking about disability rights.

Twitter / @NYAIL

Accessibility is the main focus that the advocate is working on right now. Girma herself uses a guide dog named Mylo to access the world around her. In order to communicate, the lawyer uses a dual keyboard system she devised to convert type to Braille text. Finding solutions for everyday accessibility is something that all disabled people have to do and that is what Girma wants to make easier and more understood.

Internet accessibility has especially gained Girma’s attention and advocacy. In 2014, the lawyer helped to win a landmark case against a site that failed to provide access to blind readers. It is through this lawsuit that other internet accessibility cases will be able to site precedent in the future, making the world more accessible to those with visual disabilities.

“People with disabilities already face so many barriers in the physical world,” she explained to PEOPLE. “There’s no reason to have barriers in the digital world when we have the power to convert those 1s and 0s into engaging applications that everyone can use.”

Ultimately, it’s Girma’s goal that disabled people are able to live their lives in ways that are as fulfilling and accessible as possible.

Twitter / @HabenGirma

“My dream world is a place where people with all types of disabilities are included,” Girma confessed to PEOPLE. “There is so much work to be done.”

With the help of advocates like Girma, disabled people will be able to live on their own terms in a world that is not limited by what others think they are able to do. That’s the kind of world we should all reach for.

This 13-Year-Old Boy’s Face Caught On Fire During A Science Class Demonstration

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This 13-Year-Old Boy’s Face Caught On Fire During A Science Class Demonstration

As a kid, one of the most exciting parts of science class is observing how certain chemicals react with each other—seeing how all the abstract information you’ve learned on paper manifests in real life. Of course, every school science lab is supposed to have an eye-wash station, a shower, a fire extinguisher, and other such safety tools in case something goes awry, and while accidents do happen, it is imperative that science demonstrations in the classroom be handled with extreme care. Although no hard evidence currently exists on how often school lab accidents occur—as no entity tracks them as a distinct category—scores of preventable incidents are reported every year.

Most recently, the case of 13-year-old Priest Rivera has been making headlines.

Credit: Instagram | CBSNews8

Rivera’s face and upper body were severely burned when his teacher mistakenly botched a science demonstration in June 2019, and his family has filed a lawsuit against San Diego’s Encinitas Union School District.

Last June, sixth-grade teacher Lori Feinberg fumbled a seemingly simple science demonstration called the “black snake experiment.” This experiment involves the mixing of baking soda, sugar, sand, and alcohol, which is then introduced to a flame in order to form of a “sugar snake.” (When the mixture of baking soda and sugar gets hot, it decomposes to create carbon dioxide gas. A lack of oxygen in the sugar from the combustion creates carbonate and water vapor; the carbonate is pushed out by the pressure from the carbon dioxide, and voila! A snake is born.)

“It wasn’t really working and the science teacher kept pouring more rubbing alcohol to make the flame build up more. It went wrong and blew up in my face,” Priest told CBS News 8. He explained that he had ignited, and his friends surrounded him saying, “He’s on fire!”

The lawsuit filed on December 30, 2019, claims that Feinberg “recklessly” performed the “dangerous” science experiment which involved alcohol and flames “in windy conditions.” It also alleges that Feinberg provided her students with neither safety instructions nor protective equipment (like safety glasses) before performing the “black snake” experiment. The complaint also cites “severe and permanent injuries to Priest,” alleging both negligence and negligent action and stating that “Feinberg and the District knew it was highly probable that injury could occur when conducting an experiment involving flames, but knowingly disregarded that risk.” The family is seeking an unspecified amount in damages for Priest’s present and future hospital bills.

Although, as mentioned above, no hard numbers currently exist to verify the frequency of school lab accidents, the American Chemical Society’s Division of Chemical Health and Safety is seeking out “reliable data.”

Credit: Facebook | John M. Mantel / Daily Mail

According to Scientific American, “surveys find incidents to be much more common in academic settings than in industrial labs”—and if university labs are seeing high numbers of injury and death, imagine how much less prepared public elementary, middle, and high school labs are likely to be.

Indeed, another student victim of a science experiment gone wrong was awarded $59.1 in damages from the New York Department of Education last July. Alonzo Yanes and classmate Julia Saltonstall were left with severe burns after a botched demonstration by a high school teacher in 2014. Science teacher Anna Poole attempted to conduct a “Rainbow Experiment,” a popular staple in high school chemistry classes due to its rapid and intense bursts of flame.

The Rainbow Experiment involves a variety of mineral salts and lit candles, usually placed in a line. An accelerant commonly used in the experiment is methanol, an extremely volatile liquid that shows how different salts produce distinct colors when burned. However, methanol also produces vapor clouds that can quickly spread flames (or, conversely, which can linger and be ignited by unwitting sparks later on). It was this substance that Poole used in her demonstration, pouring it out of a gallon-sized jug instead of a safer, smaller container.

Students said that she had only reached the second dish when a massive flame spread down the line of dishes and enveloped Yanes in flames, ultimately burning 30% of his body. Students also remarked that Poole was the only one in the room wearing safety goggles.

Rivera’s parents have addressed the school’s reticence to claim responsibility for what happened to their son, and the consensus within the scientific community is a similar one: almost all such incidents are preventable by improving oversight and supervision. They are not simply the consequence of random misfortune.

According to chemical safety expert Neal Langerman, “The problem of school lab danger lies in management responsibility.” With proper training, appropriate safety measures (like wearing protective clothing), and regular procedural oversight, accidents like those that have affected countless young students (as well as teachers) all over the country can be avoided in the future.

A White Woman Is Suing Two Black Teachers Claiming Reverse Racism After She Banned Black History Lessons

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A White Woman Is Suing Two Black Teachers Claiming Reverse Racism After She Banned Black History Lessons

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For the past several years, the country’s educational system has been challenged over what students should be learning in school and, for a good reason. The classes, in particular, history, are antiquated and, even more importantly, incorrect. As a society, we’ve been taught a white version of America’s history, and it’s only when we get to college or continue our studies elsewhere that we begin to discover the truth. But little by little, through education reform, teachers are attempting to change that in order to teach students about the real America and how their ancestors make up the fabric of this country. Some, however, in power positions don’t want that. 

A legal battle has ensued between a Bronx principal and teachers in which both parties are calling each other racist.

Credit: @TravelsWithTony / Twitter

The issue between these two parties began in 2018 when Mercedes Liriano, a teacher at Bronx Intermediate School 224, began teaching her sixth graders about the Harlem Renaissance in her art class during Black History Month. 

Patricia Catania, a white principal of that school at the time, told her to stop the lesson immediately. She took away posters that students were carrying that depicted the image of singer Lena Horne. Catania said that Liriano didn’t approve her lesson plan for Black History Month, but Liriano, a black teacher, said she submitted her entire lesson plan for the year. Furthermore, in an interview with the Washington Post, Liriano said that she has been teaching those lessons during Black History Month for the past 14 years. 

Teachers and parents were so appalled that the principal would prevent the teacher from teaching the Harlem Renaissance during Black History Month that they protested the matter.

Credit: YouTube

The matter last year garnered national attention, and many high-profile black activists got involved. 

“We’re learning about slavery and Harriet Tubman, but she says that I’m an ELA teacher and therefore should not be teaching that,” Liriano said last year to a local news station. “But it’s part of the New York state curriculum.”

While the school board investigated the matter, Catania continued to work at the school. This June, however, Catania got a demotion and was moved to another school just a mile away. She became the assistant principal at a different school. 

Now, months after her demotion, the former principal has filed a lawsuit against three black teachers and the union because she says they falsely accused her of being racist and claims they discriminated against her.

Credit: National Black United Front / Facebook

“There is literally not a racist thought in my head, nor a racist molecule in my body, nor have I ever made a racist comment, or acted in a racist manner in my life,” Catania said in a sworn deposition.

Her lawyer adds, “She’s been portrayed as the villain, but she’s really the victim here,” Anthony Gentile, Catania’s lawyer, said in an interview with the Post. “It was racism, pure and simple, [even though] some people may not see her as sympathetic as when this happens to a brown-skinned person.”

Liriano wrote on Twitter, “Reverse racism does not exist when we were not or have ever been the oppressors! All I have ever done was instill PRIDE! in my students! My children! By teaching them about their rich culture and true stories!!”

We shall see how this matter plays out in court. 

Last year, another Bronx school official was also investigated after she made some of her black students act as slaves so they could endure what they did.

Credit: YouTube

Teacher Patricia Cummings at another Bronx school had some of her black students lay on the floor to reenact a “slave trade — and then stepped on their backs to show them what slavery felt like,” The New York Daily News reports.An investigation found that she didn’t do everything she was accused of. She was still fired, and she is also suing the school board for a billion dollars. Yes, you read that right. 

“They’re on the record for saying the reason I’m being terminated is because of my performance as an educator and the report,” Cummings said according to ABC News. “My performance as an educator, I’ve been rated effective by the Department of Education. I’m an effective teacher.”

READ: Students At This High School Apparently Thought It Was OK To Drag A Black Mannequin By A Rope At Their Homecoming Game