Black History Month

We are celebrating the achievements and contributions of Black people in the developmental/intellecutal disability world! We are grateful for thier work and paving the way for a better world.

Meet Haben Girma

Haben Girma is the first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School. She is a human rights lawyer who advocates and work to advance disability injustice. She has received numerous awards and accolades including being named a White House Champion of Change by President Barack Obama, the Helen Keller Achievement Award, a spot on the “Forbes” 30 under 30 list and TIME100 Talks. Haben believes “disability is an opportunity for innovation,” and she teaches the importance of inclusion.

Photo by Hailey Bondy

Born in 1988 in the San Francisco Bay Area, Haben lost her vision and hearing because of an unknown progressive condition that began in her early childhood. She graduated from Skyline Highschool in 2006. She went on to attend Lewis & Clark College, where she successfully advocated for her legal rights to have accommodations in the cafeteria. She graduated manga cum laude in 2010. She went to Harvard and earned her JD in 2013.

Haben joined Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley, CA. She worked there from 2015-2016 as a staff attorney working on behalf of people with disabilities. She says “she became a lawyer in part to help increase access to books and other digital information for persons with disabilities. She now works to change attitudes about disability around the world, including the development of accessible digital services: “Digital information is just ones and zeroes…It can be converted into any kind of format. And those people who develop these services—programmers, technology designers—they have an incredible power to increase access for people with disabilities. And I hope they use it.”

In 2014 she represented the National Federation of the Blind and a blind Vermont resident in a lawsuit against Scribd for allegedly failing to provide access to blind readers, a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 2015, the US District Court of Vermont ruled that ADA covered online business not just physical businesses. Scribd agreed to provide content accessible to blind readers by the end of 2017. She still advocates for the full inclusion and accessibility for all, especially when the ADA Act falls short.

Meet Lois Curtis

Lois Curtis, a black woman with developmental and intellectual disabilities, paved the way for others to no longer live in institutions but instead live in their communities and contribute to society. When Lois was only 11 years old she was sent to live in an institution. She spent her teen years and her twenties living in various institutions for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  She would go on to seek help from the Atlanta Legal Aid Society to leave the institutions. Lois was one of the plaintiffs in the now famous 1999 Supreme Court Decision,  Olmstead v. L.C. which was decided June 22, 1999. 

President Barack Obama looks at a painting by Lois Curtis during a meeting in the Oval Office, June 20, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

 President Barack Obama looks at a painting by Lois Curtis during a meeting in the Oval Office, June 20, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)[/caption

Lois now lives in her own home in Atlanta, Georgia and is enjoying living life on her own terms! Curtis is a self-taught artist known for her portraits. She also enjoys singing and song writing.

In an interview with Lee Sanders, a Career Specialist in Roswell, Georgia, she said:

“Well, I make grits, eggs, and sausage in the morning and sweep the floor. I go out to eat sometimes. I take art classes. I draw pretty pictures and make money. I go out of town and sell me artwork. I go to church and pray to the Lord. I raise my voice high! In the summer I go to the pool and put my feet in the water. Maybe I’ll learn to swim someday. I been fishing. I seen a pig and a horse on a farm. I buy clothes and shoes. I have birthday parties. They a lot of fun. I’m not afraid of big dogs no more. I feel good about myself. My life a better life.”

Meet Dr. Kathryn Adeline Rainbow-Earhart

Kathryn Adeline Rainbow was born in 1921 in Wheeling West Virginia to John Henry and Addaline Holly Rainbow. She attended high school in West Virginia at Lincoln High School and finished her senior year at Oberlin High School in Ohio. Upon graduation, she attended Fort Valley State College in Georgia, earning her B.S. In 1942 Rainbow went on to Meharry Medical School in Nashville, Tenn. where she earned her M.D. She completed residencies at Harlem Hospital in New York, Mercy-Douglass Hospital in Pennsylvania and Freedman’s Hospital in Washington D.C.

Following her education, she went on to open a private practice in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Then went on to become a staff physician and later superintendent of Lakin State Hospital in West Virginia. She left West Virginia to come to Topeka, Kansas in 1962 to attend the Menninger School of Psychiatry. In 1965 upon completing her studies, she became the First African American to become a psychiatrist in Topeka, Kansas. She went on to work at the Topeka State Hospital and later Shawnee Community Mental Health Center (1979) and then the Kansas State Dept. of Corrections retiring in 1983.

Read More about Dr. Rainbow-Earhart.