Meet our Emcee: Cyrus Habib

Cyrus Habib, Keynote speaker for our Holiday Breakfast in December 2011, will be our emcee for the 2012 Redefining Vision Luncheon. We are excited about his continued involvement with the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind Foundation.

Cyrus makes his living as an attorney at Perkins Coie in Bellevue, WA.  Who he is and what he has accomplished will take a bit more space to explore.  Blind since the age of 9 due to a childhood cancer, retinoblastoma, Cyrus never let fear of the unknown hold him back. In an interview on the January, 13 2012 edition of KUOW Weekday (See complete interview HERE), Cyrus talks about how his parent’s attitude helped him shape his view on life:

“I was in third grade, and you know as kids do at recess time, all my peers would go and play on the jungle gym and monkey bars. And the recess monitors, knowing that I had just lost my vision and probably, I suspect, also knowing that my mother is a litigator, decided that it was too dangerous for me to be playing up on the monkey bars. So, they kept me by the side of the school with them: pretty segregated. So, this was hugely dispiriting. So, I went to my parents and I told them about how unhappy I was with the current state of affairs. My mom went to the school, she took me with her, and she said: I’m going to take my son to the playground on the weekends, I’m going to teach him how to get around the jungle gym, and he’s going to learn it as well as any other kid knows it. And, she said: I’ll sign any liability waiver you want, but he’s going to get on that jungle gym, and it may happen that he might slip and fall and break his arm, that’s a fear that any mother has. But, I can fix a broken arm I can never fix a broken spirit. My parents decided, as they told me years later that they were not going to let their fear become my fear. That really set the tone for me for life. This disability that I have at a young age is not going to affect my dreams or my pursuit of those dreams.”

Cyrus grew up in Bellevue, attending the Bellevue International School, which ranked 12th in the nation on Newsweek Magazine‘s list of the best high schools for 2007.  However, even the best institution can have weaknesses, and Cyrus amended his education through classes at Bellevue College:

“I am passionate about Bellevue College because years ago my high school’s inability to accommodate math and science classes had led me to take those portions of my high school curriculum there. Their creative approach towards teaching me topics that are seemingly entirely visual, instilled in me an enduring respect for the value of such institutions.”

In his first foray into higher education Cyrus studied Literature at Columbia University in New York, then at University of Oxford in the UK. In addition to being a Rhodes Scholar, Cyrus is also a Truman Scholar and a Soros Fellow. Upon graduating with a Masters in Literature, though, he switched his focus to attend Yale Law School. In an interview with friend and fellow Rhodes Scholar, Chesa Boudin (See complete article HERE) Cyrus explains his choice:

“I reached a point where I felt as though I was speaking into an echo chamber…  I decided that the issues I was addressing on a theoretical level, namely the relationship between visual experience and the formation of power dynamics, was in fact a phenomenon that could use my involvement outside the ivory tower. I realized that I would start with issues facing other blind individuals — not necessarily the most obvious ones — and see where that took me.”

While in law school, Cyrus was editor of the Yale Law Journal.  And, it was at Yale where he first became interested in the role currency plays in accessibility.

“As a first year law student at Yale, I learned of a recent court ruling in Washington D.C. District Court that U.S. currency is inaccessible to the blind because bills are only distinguishable visually. I was intrigued, and soon enough found myself wrapped up in that cause. I co-authored, along with another Rhodes Scholar and Yale classmate, Jonathan Finer, an amicus brief at the appellate level, authored an op-ed in the Washington Post and other forums, and eventually testified before Congress on how best to adapt U.S. currency to become accessible to America’s blind and low-vision population as well.”

Cyrus is a Human Services Commissioner for the City of Bellevue, and sits on the board of directors of the Bellevue College Foundation and the Bellevue Downtown Association. In 2009 he was appointed by King County Executive Dow Constantine to serve as a King County Civil Rights Commissioner. A former Trustee of the Washington Young Lawyers Division, he has served on a number of Bar committees and task forces. He is also active in the Bellevue Rotary Club. Cyrus is currently running for State Representative for the 48th District. In an article for the Washington Post in 2007 titled “Show us the Money”, Cyrus makes a call to action that the Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. hopes to reflect:

“When it comes to accommodating disabilities such as blindness, let us continue to lead the world in practice as well as in principle. More important still, let us tell the world that we, too, believe that blindness should not be an obstacle to financial independence. In doing so, let us also take a significant step toward ameliorating the living conditions of blind Americans, now and for years to come.”