Novel Idea: Janet Hensen


Name: Janet Hensen

Title: Information services manager for the Jackson County Public Library

What’s the name of the book and author you are recommending?

I read “Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law,” a memoir by Haben Girma.

What made you want to pick up this book in the first place?

I was fortunate enough to hear Haben Girma speak at the Public Library Association conference in Nashville, Tennessee, in February. One thing that struck me during her speech was her saying that her barriers are not her disabilities, but the fact that communities aren’t inclusive for all. I was interested in learning more about her story.

Once you got into the book, what made you want to keep reading it?

She uses humor but has a great message about inclusion and that we should all be doing the work to make everyone included.

Once you finished the book, what did you like about it?

It gives a lot to think about, like how ingrained ableism is in our society. It was very interesting to read about the technology she uses. She has a Braille keyboard that is connected to a regular keyboard. She has people type to her, and it translates to Braille as they type, which Haben can read with her fingers. She also has an interpreter who travels with her and types speeches and other conversation, including description of people and body language, so Haben doesn’t need to rely on sight or hearing to know what is happening.

What is the book about?

Haben is the daughter of African immigrants and was born deafblind. She grew up in California and talks about visiting Eritrea, which is in northeast Africa near Ethiopia and Sudan, where her parents are from. She uses stories from her life to show how she has helped facilitate change and promote inclusion. As a high school student, she went to Mali with a group from her school to help build a school. When she was an undergraduate, the cafeteria manager wouldn’t send her the menus so she knew what was available. After she threatened to sue them, they began emailing her the menus daily, which benefited her and students who came after her. That prompted her interest in law. After graduating from Harvard Law, she worked as a lawyer who for the National Federation of the Blind to use ADA litigation to increase access to digital information for people with disabilities. In 2016, Haben Girma began her own business of disability rights consulting, writing and public speaking.

Why would you recommend this book to others?

It benefits us all to read stories of people who are different from us. But I have found that you start out noticing the differences, but as you read, you discover how similar we all are.

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