‘Life Was Tough Being the Only Blind Student at School’

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Visually impaired website developer, Jolomi George, who graduated from the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, shared his experience on how he managed to scale through school after all efforts to regain his sight proved abortive. Ayodeji Ake writes

“I wasn’t born like this. I got blind at the age of 18 in 2003, a day after I wrote my last paper for senior WAEC. I stayed home for five years till I got to know about the blind school, so I enrolled for the school and spent nine months there. That was my first journey to city technology. I got to know about how a blind person can use the computer very well and do other things, after then I enrolled at Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ). Starting NIJ was another challenge being the only blind student in the school, it wasn’t easy but through the help of God I was able to keep up, writing my notes, attending lectures, doing assignments and preparing for exams, more people like me will find it difficult but thanks to technology provided I was able to scale myself through school and I had good result at NIJ and I came out with upper credit.”

Those were words of Jolomi Geroge, explaining the journey of how he found succour in technology to forge ahead after losing his sight as a teen. Yet, he struggled to live healthy and he is fulfilled catching up with his academic pursuit even though visually impaired.

As a visually impaired student with a strong determination of excelling and getting a good job and sometimes in the future become a responsible father who will take up responsibilities of his family, George narrated his encounters, how he felt his situation was next to not-existing and his classrooms scenes.

“There are moments whereby I feel I shouldn’t be like this but determination took me through NIJ because I was determined that no matter what I have to go through NIJ and come out with good grades because if I don’t go to school, what will I tell my unborn children, how will I cope? So it’s something I fixed my mind on that no matter what I have to start and finish.

“I had an experience in school where a lecturer came into the class and spent much of the time analysing on the board which clearly I couldn’t see or understand what he was doing and he didn’t do it just once but every time he comes into the class and believe me I just drop by one of the days. Honestly, I felt bad in the class but I later stood up and I went to the man’s office and made complaints that he should please always carry me along. There was a time I started developing this feeling that people were afraid to talk to me, people are scared to talk to me but anytime I try to reach out, I wouldn’t know they have been trying to come closer too,” he said.

George as a young graduate with the zeal of exercising his potentials to make a change despite his condition went out on the streets of Lagos looking for a job but reverse was the case. Instead of being offered a job, he was treated as a beggar while he held his certificate with him.

His words: “I can say academically I’m fulfilled, socially yes but career wise no, because believe me it is very difficult getting a job. I have been a graduate for four years now and still looking for a job. I went to an office in Ikeja to drop my CV, immediately I walked into the office trying to locate the receptionist, I just heard a voice from nowhere telling me they don’t tolerate beggars, I felt bad, I felt like breaking down in tears, I found my way out of the office. I didn’t even bother dropping my CV anymore. “

He pleaded for government interventions while urging the private sector to rescue the visually impaired from hunger by providing them with job. “Honestly, in the situation of looking for a job I have heard so many things, so many funny things, it is not easy as a blind person looking for a job and everybody believes that it is only the government that can help us. But private institutions also can take us in only if they give us the chance, we are competent, most of us, I am competent, as at now I design website enough to earn a living. That’s what I do.

“I remembered when I was in my final year back then in school, I knew that they might leave school and looking for job, so I was taking short courses online. My only regret is doubt. When I was in school, even when I graduated there were moments where I have this doubt that I can’t do this, I cannot make this happen, at the process, I got to lose many things, some knowledge was wasted. If had I believed in myself, I would have been much better, I mean knowledge wise, confidence wise,” he said.

The Deputy Provost of NIJ, Dr. Jide Johnson, said the institution has been committed to an inclusive education to encourage young people academically.

“We believe in an all-inclusive education that gives opportunity to every student regardless of their status or regardless whether they have one physical challenge or the other because we are there to allow and to provide opportunities for everyone to fulfill his or her dream because the right to education is a fundamental right that should not be denied to anybody based on one form of disability or the other. So, we run an inclusive institution that gives opportunity to every student and I am sure virtually every institution in Nigeria does that,” he said.
Speaking further on inclusive mechanism, Johnson noted that there is no rigidity impacting students who are visually impaired if the lecturers are qualified enough to carry the students along despite their challenges.

He said: “There is no rigidity about it because, you just have to adapt, let me say for example as a lecture teaching someone that is visually impaired, basically I make the lecture notes (I mean the slides) available ahead of time, I make it available to the student which they use on their system. Well, there are different devices that could read out what you have in terms of those lectures and I think most of our lecturers do that for our visually impaired students.

“One of the fundamental thing is that you must give your student the lecture materials well ahead of time before you talk about the lecture and then also you’ve got to be available to go extra mile in case such student with physical disability needs your assistance. You know the capacity of student to understand varies, you have different level of understanding. So, we operate an open door policy that any student walk up to any lecturer for further clarification and the rest of these, we operate what we call the local prentice, each and every lecturer is like a local parent to the student and I think that goes a long way to help any student with any form of disability be it physical, be it mental, be it academic.”

Speaking on stigmatisation, Johnson said “understanding is ingrained in every one of our student, I will tell you that from experience, I can give you examples, naming some of the students we have had in the past and the kind of support, the kind of encouragement from their colleagues not to even talk of staff, this can be independently verified. They are never victimized. We ensure they strictly address the issue of stigmatisation during their stay in school.”