April 16, 2024
Annapolis, US 63 F

UPDATED: Deaf, Blind, Disability Attorney Calls Out Key School for Lack of Captioning at Book Festival

UPDATE: See Key School response below.

The Annapolis Book Festival, a Key School event, was held virtually this past weekend amid ongoing COVID restrictions.  The event, normally a two-day festival at the campus along the banks of the South River, was expanded to three days to include more authors, panels, and activities.

However, one of the participating authors was left dumbfounded.  Haben Girma, a blind and deaf attorney, and disability advocate was invited to speak about her book, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law.

However, when the author was getting set up, it was discovered that Key School would not be providing or any captioning for those that are deaf or hard of hearing.  This did not sit well with a deafblind attorney whose specialty is accessibility issues. Girma was told there would not be any captioning.

The show went on, but after the festival, Girma took to her substantial social media platforms to express her astonishment. In her video, it almost sounds like the start of a bad joke–two accessibility lawyers walk into a festival to discuss accessibility and find out there is no captioning.

Here she is.

Girma was named a 30 Under 30 By Forbes for Law & Policy in 2016, provided opening remarks with former President Barack Obama on the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and has been named one of the Top 100 Most Influential Africans by New African magazine.

We reached out to the Key School and the organizers of the Annapolis Book Festival and our emails have not been returned. This article will be updated when we receive a response.

UPDATE:  We received an email from Irfan Latimer, the Director of Communications for Key School:

We are deeply sorry that Haben Girma and Lainey Feingold had to confront accessibility issues at the Annapolis Book Festival. In the very arena we hoped would provide insight to the wider community about Ms. Girma’s inspiring life experience, inclusivity and equity, we found ourselves unprepared to deliver the experience both presenters and attendees deserved.

It was our understanding during the planning of the festival that our virtual platform provider, Crowdcast, was going to provide closed captioning for all of the panels. Unfortunately, that was not the case. With advice from Ms. Girma and moderator Ms. Feingold, we were able to adjust the panel presentation to a Zoom platform and utilize closed captioning through its service; however, as we are learning, not all closed captioning services provide error-free transcription, as was the case with Haben Girma’s presentation.

Moving forward we will be more discerning about the capabilities of companies we partner with and more deliberate in our conversations with our authors to ensure both greater accessibility for all and to guard against our blindspots.

We appreciate Ms. Girma’s candor and calling us out. We are committed to do better.

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