Like any other child, who dreamt of a beautiful future and live for each day to bring goodness, I had the same. But little did I know that life will offer me another dimension and another world that I entirely don’t have any idea of. Growing up was good and beautiful, at an early age, I had been leading in my class as the class captain and each term I always was first in class. Until one fateful day, when I woke up and couldn’t even stand, my body was hotter than fire, initially, my sister thought I was faking it until it got so serious. When my mother arrived from market, she had to rush me to hospital where I was admitted and from my minor illness a lot of money was spent, properties were lost. The fact is that my mother could go to any length to lose everything but not her child, so she was so determined to make me recover at any cost. After many attempts to get better and no improvement they had to seek a natural healer, Although, I was getting better, but not very well as I managed to eat little and sit at the same time.
I woke up one day, and felt that the rain that has been raining for the past three days has to stop as the noise was disturbing my ears, so I asked my mother why the rain has refused to stop for the past three days. My mother was taken aback, she asked which rain was I talking about, and I responded by making the rain’s noise “Ruu Ruu Ruu.” My mother replied, “No rain, nothing like rain at all.” She opened the curtain for me to take a peep outside, lo and behold, it was sunny. Then I realized my life had taken another dimension, I couldn’t hear anything again except the vibrating noise in my head. With every day passing in my life, it has become something I have to ignore in my brain, although it was never easy. That’s how my Journey in the deaf world began. My life changed, my dreams collapsed, and I had to adapt to deafness. It was a battle I fought and was determined to win. Deafness came and decided to rob me of a life full of joy and happiness I had planned for myself, but glory be to God that I have supportive sisters and a mother who stood with me to motivate me and give me a reason to live irrespective of my disability. And today as I have grown up to be the lady I aspired to be I know it’s all God’s will for me. Where there is a will, there is a way. I found my way to what prepared me to this today. I am deaf, beautiful, classy, bold, and I’m succeeding, although I have not achieved my desired goals, but I am on the right track. To God be the glory.
Inspiration behind Ability Plus Initiative
After I became deaf, I couldn’t relate well with my peer group, I was shunned, ignored and packed to a corner like a pack of cards. The Intelligent class captain Janet is now a deaf; a nonentity that no one wants to get close to, I was despised, and it hurt.
However, I was determined to live my life to the fullest and I didn’t allow the negative mindset of what the society said about me to distract me from achieving my goal. This neglect and exclusion from the people and society who should have given me a sense of belonging pushed me to want to do something to push for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the society. There were times I would be watching TV drama and I see family and friends laughing hysterically and I would ask in my desperate attempt to understand what was happening, they would tell me “it’s nothing, don’t worry, it’s not important.” It was so painful, I also wanted to laugh and understand, but I was deprived of this right to information. Sad. Then as I kept living and building myself, I came to understood that not even the larger community take any cognizance to understand our needs, especially the deaf community that depends largely on a sign language interpreter. It was at my service year in NYSC at the Ministry of Information and Culture that I started educating a few people in my office on sign language and the need to strengthen the sign language advocacy for the deaf at the Press Centre where I made CD in sign language and sign language T-shirts for free, and give it out to staff at the Press Centre.This helped me to get recommendations at NTA to start teaching sign language on NTA.
Prior to this, I wanted to be the Voice for the Deaf and an advocate for Persons With Disabilities on Information Access and Entertainment for Persons with Disabilities. Then I initiated Ability Plus Initiative.
About Ability Plus Initiative: The world today has witnessed tremendous changes and these changes have their own influence upon humans which includes Persons With Disabilities (PWDs). Many a times, Persons With Disabilities stand a greater risk of falling prey to the menace these changes cause. In Ability Plus Initiative, we recognize these problems and are powered by the drive to build a society where Persons With Disabilities have quality access to basic necessities that will help build their world and fit into the society. With a solid team of like minds, we work systematically using our core value tools as a solid strategy for achieving set goals. We are motivated by our belief that everyone has a right to the best possible way of life regardless of their disability. We work to become a catalyst for transformation and growth for PWDs through our various outlined programs and projects. We believe that PWDs should be recognized and celebrated. Warren Schmidt once said that “the land of opportunity is an attitude. It is opened to new ideas; a willingness to learn; an eagerness to listen; a desire to grow; and the flexibility to change.” I want you all reading this to Join us as we help PWDs to experience the true essence of this life.
Our Vision: Bridging the gap of inequality and discrimination against Persons With Disabilities.
Our Mission: To build an unending relationship with the society in manners that take into cognizance the abilities of PWDs through our core values.
Our Goal and Objectives: PWDs making positive impacts wherever they go; and the society identifying with these impacts for equal growth drive in our society. We are open for partnerships. Welcome to API world.
How has the journey been since you started?
I must say, it has not been easy. The journey started three years ago, and we have been pushing and trying to ensure we get reliable partners and sponsors, but I tell you it was a big hurdle to overcome. This is because somehow the Voice of the Deaf cannot be heard like her other hearing counterparts, thereby making it so hard for me. A light support I got is to organize program for Persons With Disabilities, mentor them and give them a short time support. Our long term and sustainable support has not so far been met because of lack of partners and sponsors to come forward to help us make this great idea of mine a reality so we can join hand together and say, “Yes, we did this for Persons With Disabilities.”
Our Services includes but are not limited to:
- Promote ethics and value orientation for PWDs through community relations and various media platforms.
- Persons with Disabilities Citizens’ Rights Advocacy
- Grassroots Reorientation.
- Provide enhancement projects and empowerment opportunities for PWDs.
- Promote and support the recognition of PWDs bravery, socioeconomic participations, and innovative ideas.
- Organize programs, seminars, workshops, trainings and events that reflect on our seven spheres of focus.
- Co-operate and partner with other organizations and individuals within and outside Nigeria with the intent to encourage generational change and support the wholesome beauty embodied in PWDs.
Our intended projects include:
- The Ability Award
- Ability Studio
- Ability Entrepreneurship Hub.
Granted we get partners and sponsorship for one or two of these projects, it will not only change the lives of PWDs, it will beautify their lives as it’s a lifetime project that provide job opportunities and teach them skills. Reaching this milestone of idea has not been easy, but one day, with the support of you and I, we will look back and praise God.
You are the first Miss Deaf Nigeria, tell us about that phase of your journey?
Seven years ago, I saw Miss Deaf World on Facebook, I also saw Miss Deaf International, and I got inspired by what I saw, so I reached out to one of my mentors who told me there was an established Most Beautiful Deaf Girl in Nigeria on ground where I can easily showcase the beauty and culture of deaf women in Nigeria. It was not strong back then as it was still in its embryonic stage. So I got in touch with the initiator of the organization and we got along well. In 2016, since there was no fund to organize Miss Deaf Nigeria, I was then selected to represent Miss Deaf World in Czech Republic, 2016. Despite all of our efforts, we didn’t get any sponsor. The dream just died like that, but I knew within me; one day, my dream will come to reality. In effort to pursue my dream, as I love fashion and modelling, in 2017, I applied to contest on the platform of Miss Philanthropy Africa Initiative, the first ever beauty pageant that didn’t discriminate against PWDs. I was enrolled, taught and groomed on that platform, and I contested with 8 other hearing contestants. Lo and behold, my performance, although deaf, won the heart of many and I won and was crowned Miss Philanthropy Central Africa 2017/2018 Region. There and then, my focus and project was to help the less privileged and persons with disabilities. I also wanted to focus by using my title as an advantage to raise money for Most Beautiful Deaf Girl in Nigeria. I was given a go ahead and the CEO of Most Beautiful Deaf Girl in Nigeria almost lost interest as she had wasted a lot of money on fruitless efforts to build the platform. So she gave me the full authority, and presented all official duties and files to me and in 2018 I become Coordinator for Most Beautiful Deaf Girl in Nigeria.
You are also the Coordinator of MBDGN, what inspired you to kick off the initiative?
Like I mentioned earlier, the desire to be a voice to the voiceless runs in me, I aspired to be a queen and a model. There have been a number of pageantry spread all over the place, the first question one should ask is how many of these pageants are tolling the path of humanity? Another known fact is the inability of a Deaf girl to participate in these numerous pageant no matter how beautiful and intelligent. Even though among these deaf people are ladies and men of intellect and extreme beauty, a fact that the developed countries has capitalized on to promote specialized Deaf Pageants. It’s interesting to know that Deaf Pageant have been going on in the world for close to three decades now without Nigeria’s participation, a development that can no longer be allowed to continue. It is on this note that I have decided to take the bull by the horn; along with MBDGN team to organize the first ever Miss & Mr. Deaf Nigeria Pageant as our first step of preparation towards participating in Miss Deaf Word in Czech Republic, and Miss Deaf International. In November 2019, we were able to organize the first ever Miss Deaf Nigeria on the platform of Most Beautiful Deaf Girl in Nigeria Initiative, and Miss Maria Okese of River State emerged Winner of Miss Deaf Nigeria. We plan to attend Miss Deaf World in Czech Republic in 2021, and hopefully we will get good sponsors to be able to attend and also find partners to host Miss Deaf Nigeria 2021. We hope and believe this will open many people’s eyes to the fact that not even our disabilities can gun us down. We are able, we are beautiful and in our imperfections, we are talented and passionate just like everyone else.
Do you think the society is well informed on how to treat people living with disability, especially deaf people?
I don’t even know what to say, but honestly speaking, we Persons With Disabilities have really tried on part of advocacy and information. For good 16years we have been advocating for the Passage of Disability Bill to be passed into law, and fortunately for us, President Buhari signed the Bill into law in 2019. It’s a whole lot of freedom for us, but sadly with the passage of the law in full force, things are still the same, implementation has not fully taken effect. Nigeria has not fully grabbed this law to better our lives, a lot are still lagging behind, many workplaces like banks, hospitals, and firms are still making the physically challenged —wheelchair users— suffer, many places are not accessible; including hospitals.
For us, it’s worse, many TV and radio house are deaf to our cry to make information accessible by having sign language interpreter on their screen and or make use of Captioning. Only NTA, where I work, is the only Inclusive TV station in Nigeria. The blind are also not left behind in this hard hit, so who do we blame? It’s the society that doesn’t want to listen to us. In conclusion the society is well informed but has decide not to take action, maybe when we start dragging them to court for violating our rights, they will start to do the right things.
What are some of the challenges you experience as a disability advocate?
I’m losing count of those challenges. The most pressing ones include:
- Discrimination arising from or during communication.
- Societal segregation: It is assumed that we have no ability to do things, let alone to do better or even contribute to national development. Note that there are deaf lawyers, deaf doctors, and deaf professors amongst us. I’m not the most successful deaf person; there are a lot of us but because we can’t speak, the society decided to shut the only voice we have —our abilities. They don’t believe in us. The society needs to stop looking down on us. I was first human before I turned deaf. So, let us love and value everyone, irrespective of their disability, because no one knows what tomorrow holds.
- Marginalization: Sometimes I was treated with disdain. I was ignored and shunned as soon as people knew I am deaf. For instance, I attempted several times to participate in beauty pageants but was rejected time and time again when they knew I am deaf.
Everyone loves me, says I’m beautiful and even clap for me. But once I make a sign that I am deaf all that they have acknowledged vanishes and gets replaced with sympathy and marginalization. Should I start pretending to hide my disability and pretend to be who I am not? That’s not me! This is why I work tirelessly to ensure that the Miss and Mr Deaf Nigeria pageant became a reality to show who we are, what we are capable of and to appreciate ourselves. Sometimes, you have to sing and listen to your own song before others will. I Believe in myself; that’s what matters to me as an advocate and I am positive that one day all I aspire to be shall come be realized because God has my back.
Mention 3 women who inspire you to be better and why?
- My dear mother: Mrs Anike Olajumoke Saka My Day 1 supporter. She inspired me to work hard, she instilled in me to wear my scar with pride, she was never ashamed of me being her deaf daughter. She was so proud of me and always protect me, she is a praying mother. When I forget to pray, she was my guardian angel, whom God has sent behind and in front of me to shield me from evil. She is the Jesus on earth for me. The love of a mother is so priceless. Because of this woman, I am still standing on my two legs working hard to ensure she eats the fruits of her labour on me. My Mother. My Pride. I love her so much. ki iku mase pa aalaanu mi. (Amin).
- My three sisters: The aro meta lehin mi.(The three stars behind me). They are ferocious, fierce but loving sisters, they inspired me to work as a team. I learnt from them that teams fight, but, find grounds to resolve it. They are my push, the beating of my life I get from them (LOL). This inspired me to be so strong and pursue the path that will send me on a journey to have self-control. Their much nagging made me run and hide and do things independently, today I get my inspiration from them to be me, and never allow anyone or anything stop me from grabbing my dream. They made me realized I should stand for my rights anywhere any place. To the best sister ever who joined hands to make my wedding the talk of town; wherever you may be: Thank you Aunty Silifat Apalowo, Aunty Kuburat Omolola and Aunty Fausat Akintomide. I love you!
- Hajia Hamza Jamilah: She is my mentor, my number one push in Disability advocacy. A woman with a good Heart, soft spoken and so understanding. But if I made a mistake, she will ensure I realize it, she does not pretend, she is so real. For all you do, for me, for the Deaf community, I say thank you. She was the success behind Miss Deaf Nigeria, with her networks and recommendations, we got support. May you keep being light to lighten people’s darkness and may your light never go dim. I love you mentor.
Being a woman of Rubies
I have passed through a lot in life and I’ve learnt that the only way to stay down is to look down on oneself, lack belief and confidence and to be narrow-minded. So for me, I have established a higher purpose —to live to help others, look beyond myself and challenges and focus on the opportunities I can create for others. I consider my abilities are strong enough to a point that I believe deafness is an ability. What if I wasn’t deaf?
These qualities made me extraordinary, a woman of rubies and more; a woman who against all odds is making impact and changing the narrative. The best of me is yet to come!
In view of the pandemic, could you share some nuggets on safety measures for persons with disability
The COVID-19 pandemic poses a severe risk to the health and well-being of individuals with disabilities. Here are some tips for my fellow PWDs to take:
- Wash your hand with soap and water regularly.
- Use your face mask as much as possible when in public.
- Maintain a distance of about 6ft.
- Cover your mouth in case you want to cough, use disposable toiletries.
- For the blind and mobility aids, it’s advisable to use hand gloves.
- Chew Vitamin C.
Alot of people are not well informed about “Deafness”, please shed some light on how to support such persons, and how to spot one.
Deafness is an hidden disability, and we are the most marginalized group ever, because people do not see our disability, but the sound in our head is what we have to cope with daily and you all cannot understand. It’s not easy I tell you. Sometimes, people will want to call us, then they throw stones at us, it’s very wrong and unacceptable. Meet us and call us or send someone to call us if we are far from you. Throwing an object at us is bad. Also it’s a bad idea to tell you that I’m deaf and you start raising eyebrow and say “Sorry.” Sorry for what? I am not an object of sympathy. There is no need to pity me, I am OK. The best way to support and interact with us is to learn our sign language, even if it’s just A to Z, or simply using the shape of a heart to say ‘I love you’. Please, do that so you can make them smile. We will feel appreciated and have a sense of belonging. Alternatively, writing will ensure proper information is passed across. Also try and believe in Deaf People, they are intelligent and can do many things except hearing.
We have people that can hear that are beggars. That has not made all the “hearing world” beggars, same goes to the Deaf. Some deaf people are beggars, but majority of us are well to do and hardworking. So believe in us, support our initiative and be a part of the voice to the voiceless. We need each other. God bless you!