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Iwda Hero
• Oct 29, 2020

Keynote speaker conquered Harvard Law School as first Deafblind graduate

Disability advocate Haben Girma has a lifetime of experience tearing down walls of exclusion. So, she was more than ready when Harvard Law School called to talk about becoming the esteemed institution's first Deafblind student.

"Harvard told me they never had a Deafblind student before. I said, 'I've never been to Harvard Law school before.' Together we didn't know what the solutions would be …. but we would find them," she said during her keynote presentation at TD Bank's first Individual with Diverse Abilities (IwDA) Colleague Summit last week.

Haben spoke about her experiences and triumphs, including being the first Deafblind person to graduate from the prestigious institution. She talked movingly about personal experiences like learning to salsa dance by feeling the beat and revealed she surfs by focusing on the rhythms of the ocean through her feet on her surfboard.

But this inspiring woman's accomplishments reach far beyond school and surf. President Barack Obama named Haben as a White House champion of change in 2013. She also crafted a memoir, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law. It told her life story growing up as a child of Eritrean refugees in Oakland, California and her journey to become a disability rights advocate.

"Whenever I am successful, someone has helped to do the work of removing the barriers. When people remove barriers, it helps build inclusion," she said. "You can always find a solution."

TD Colleagues focus on Bank's Culture of Care

The summit opened with a video featuring TD Colleagues, including Cesar Barral-Rujano, Caitlin Messick and Christine Rumpf. They spoke about TD Bank's Culture of Care that empowers progress, inclusion and the welcoming reception they receive from telling their stories.

The crowd of nearly 1,000 North American Colleagues also learned about the Bank's recruitment and accommodations program, both led by Human Resources, and ongoing efforts to strengthen accessibility capabilities, which are best-in-class today in banking.

"What's most important is what we are hearing from our Colleagues directly about the impact of our efforts," said Chris Giamo, TD's Head of Commercial Banking and Management Committee sponsor for IwDA.

Andrew Stuart, head of TD Auto Finance and Diversity Leadership Team Chair, also noted the importance of hearing Colleagues' stories.

"Inclusion cannot be realized to its fullest without a strong accommodation program and a focus on IwDA talent acquisition efforts," Andrew said.

Power of our Partnerships

Chris and Andrew noted during their virtual chat how TD's efforts have been strengthened by a growing number of partnerships, addressing our desire to recruit top talent to the bank and supporting them on their career journey.

"We have taken enormous strides in advancing disability inclusion at the bank amid the biggest challenge we've faced in a century," said, John Pluhowski, TD Bank's Chief Communications Officer, Corporate & Public Affairs and U.S. Executive Lead for IwDA. "Colleagues with disabilities seek the same opportunities afforded to those without – equal opportunity and the promise of meaningful work and advancement. I cannot think of a more noble cause to support."

Our celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month continues with The Power of Wow podcast featuring an in-depth interview with Haben.

Want to learn more about Diversity & Inclusion?
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