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This Immigrant Woman Just Became The First Deafblind Person To Graduate From Harvard Law School

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.

Twitter / @LenovoNews

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.

Twitter / @BCHFacultyDev

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.

An Incoming International Harvard Student Has Been Denied Entry To The United States

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An Incoming International Harvard Student Has Been Denied Entry To The United States

Cengiz Yar / Getty Images

The Trump administration’s immigration policies are criminalizing survivors, tearing families apart and emboldening racists and xenophobes throughout the country. But President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration agenda is also negatively impacting higher education in the US. According to multiple recent reports, it has become increasingly difficult for international students to receive their visas, also adding a greater workload on universities and their employees who try to help students work through the red tape and advocate on their behalf.

Those in higher education and immigration law say that the process for international students to attain their visas have become harder under Trump.

 According to government data, approval of student visas is down and many remain in limbo for longer periods. The latest available department data show that student visas declined by more than 100 thousand from 2016 to 2018. This has led to an overall decrease in the number of new international students enrolled at US colleges. For instance, survey data collected by the Institute of International Education during the 2016–17 school year found that enrollment of international students fell by 3 percent from the previous year. In the most recent data, which looks at the 2017–18 school year, it fell by close to 7 percent.

NAFSA: Association of International Educators reports that these visa obstacles started after Trump issued a memorandum in 2017 that called for the “heightened screening and vetting of applications for visas and other immigration benefits” as well as new or updated requirements for visa holders studying or working at US colleges. Additionally, the Atlantic reports that changes initiated by the Trump administration in 2018 made it even harder for recent graduates with student visas to continue living in the country legally. 

“I’ve been in the field for almost 20 years, and the amount of immigration changes during the last three years has been exponential,” Kristy Magner, who oversees Tulane University’s Office of International Students and Scholars, told the publication. 

One of the most high-profile cases was that of Ismail B. Ajjawi

In August of 2019, the incoming Harvard Palestinian freshman from Lebanon was detained by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at a Boston airport. The 17-year-old was denied entry after CBO officers found social media posts from his friends that criticize the US. As a result, Ajjawi’s visa was canceled. However, because the teen was detained at an airport, sparing him from being officially deported, he was able to re-apply for a visa back home. Ten days later, Ajjawi returned to Boston and was able to start school.

Also in August, nine Chinese students who were returning to the US as undergraduate students at Arizona State University were detained at Los Angeles International Airport.

 According to the university, the students were in CBP custody for a week and were “denied admission to the U.S. to continue their studies.” They were ultimately forced to return to China, despite being “academically eligible to return to ASU and to the United States under their visas.”

“[I]t is beyond my comprehension how the U.S. government could establish and implement policies that bring about the outcomes we are now witnessing,” ASU president Michael Crow wrote in a letter addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. 

While these cases are among the most extreme, they follow a growing pattern of increased difficulty for international students. 

Many institutions, including New York University, expressed seeing more students denied travel in advance of their trips.

NYU was one of the first schools to establish support for immigrant students upon the start of Trump’s presidency. In January 2017, just days after Trump’s inauguration, it created the Immigrant Defense Initiative, which offers “free, confidential advice and representation” to students and staff who could be at risk for deportation. Other universities, including Columbia University, the California State University system and George Washington University, now also offer free immigration-related legal services for students. 

But students, and now university employees who are tasked with new responsibilities in helping the international academics, need more help. Back in July, Harvard University president Lawrence Bacow sent a letter to Pompeo and McAleenan sharing his grievances. “Students report difficulties getting initial visas — from delays to denials,” he wrote. “Scholars have experienced postponements and disruptions for what have previously been routine immigra­tion processes such as family visas, renewals of status, or clearance for international travel.”

Dr. Hironao Okahana, associate vice president of policy and research analysis at the Council of Graduate Schools, told Teen Vogue the rise in incidents like Ajjawi’s are concerning and worth further investigation. 

“[W]e’ll be carefully observing to see if any additional incidents occur as quarter-system schools begin their term in a few weeks,” he said.

In addition to the denial of visas and slowed-down processes, universities face another problem: Trump’s anti-immigration agenda is stopping international students from applying to US institutions. 

“I think that both [the Trump administration’s] immigration policy and the messaging of the day are literally turning [international] students away … and making them less inclined to want to study in the United States,” Brian Rosenberg, the president of Macalester College, a liberal-arts institution in St. Paul, Minnesota, told the Atlantic.

As a result, some schools are doing additional work to ensure international students that they are welcome at their universities.

Philip A. Glotzbach, the president of Skidmore College, told the Atlantic that his staff has had to “work a lot harder” to recruit and retain international students. Additionally, Barbara K. Altmann, the president of Franklin & Marshall College, said that her school has been taking “extraordinary measures … so international students know [they’re welcome here].” For instance, because one in five students at the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, liberal-arts school is from outside of the US, mostly China, it has created a network of Chinese nationals that send reassuring messages to incoming students from the Asian country. 

“These incidents,” said Okahana, “as isolated as they may be, are troubling and have created chilling effects.”

Read: Migrants Are Dying In US Immigration Custody And Here’s What You Need To Know About The Victims

Latino Students In The US Will Soon Be Able To Get A Scholarship For College Thanks To Maná

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Latino Students In The US Will Soon Be Able To Get A Scholarship For College Thanks To Maná

You could say “Oye Mi Amor” is a Latino theme song just as much as Selena’s “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” and Juan Gabriel’s “Amor Eterno.” The song is a musical staple in Latino households because we’ve grown up listening to Maná. For anyone not familiar with Maná, they’re basically the Bon Jovi of Mexico. This rock band from Guadalajara could be considered an extended part of the family because they’re always being played a quinceñearas, parties, weddings, you name it. So, it’s only natural that Maná helps to pay for important milestone moments in our lives since they are a part of the family.

Maná announced that they are giving away a $10,000 scholarship to 15 Latino students between the ages of 18 to 35. 

Credit: @soytapatia / Twitter

The band, along with Selva Negra Environmental Foundation, and the Univision Foundation, has started the Maná Scholarship Program. As we said, the scholarship will benefit up to 15 Latino students between the ages of 18 to 35 by helping them achieve their dream of furthering their education. 

So who can apply for this scholarship? Anyone who has contributed in a positive way to their community. 

Credit: @UniNoticias / Twitter

According to the site, “These scholarships are intended to help applicants who have a demonstrated commitment to positive change in their communities; specifically, those who have chosen to help clean up or otherwise improve the environment around them.” They also state that the “scholarship is open to high school seniors or graduates and to current college undergraduates who are either U.S. citizens, legal residents of the U.S., or undocumented residents of the U.S., including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, and applications will be received and reviewed from September 9th through October 23rd, 2019.”

Yes, undocumented immigrants will be considered for this scholarship!

Credit: @Bazaldua / Twitter

The only documents students should submit to be eligible is “current, complete transcript of grades. Grade reports are not accepted. Unofficial or online transcripts must display student name, school name, grades and credit hours for each course, and term in which each course was taken.” 

While there’s certainly a lot of scholarships available for Latinos, it’s so rare to have those options available for undocumented people. They’re in this country too, and contributing in so many ways. 

There is one issue that people on social media have with this scholarship. It is only available to Latinos in the United States and not in Mexico.

Credit: manaoficial / Instagram

As we noted before, in order to be eligible for this scholarship, they must be “U.S. citizens, legal residents of the U.S., or undocumented residents of the U.S., including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.” One person on Instagram said, “But why only the USA? In Latin America, we also have young people wanting opportunities.” Another said, “Why does Mana make more noise in the Latino population of the U.S than in Mexico?” One added, “They should have done this in first in Mexico.”

We do think it’s highly odd that a Mexican band would not have a separate scholarship for Mexican students. However, who knows, the more people inquire about it, there could be a chance that the band will see that it would only be fair to offer a scholarship to Mexican fans too. We’re certain they, Selva Negra, and Univision has more money to spare especially if that means giving the opportunity of higher education. 

Some people are already applying and showing Maná what they’re all about. 

Credit: @Ximenas79772490 / Twitter

We think this is a great opportunity for Latinos in the U.S. who have been working hard to make a positive difference in their community and give their all every day. There are so many young people who have done an incredible amount of work especially within the activism realm who should show off their accomplishments. 

If you really want to get the attention of Maná we would highly suggest going to their next concert with a sign that says “I deserve your scholarship!”

Credit: manaoficial / Instagram

It doesn’t hurt to try. 

The band is currently on tour in the United States, so here’s your chance! They have several dates coming up in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Jose, San Diego, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, El Paso, Houston, Fresno. They are seriously touring nonstop. Click here to check out their next tour dates, and for more information on the scholarship, click here

READ: Here Are Maná 13 Best Songs To Celebrate Their Upcoming Billboard Lifetime Achievement Award