Ms. Oluwakemi Odusanya, a graduate of Mass communication from the University of Lagos, is an enthusiast for disability inclusion management, and an advocate of the Sustainable Development Goals, to amplify the voices of the marginalised and vulnerable persons in the society.
She currently works as the Admin/Program Officer for the Nigeria Association of the Blind.
In this interview, Odusanya calls on government to allocate funds that will be used to produce print materials in accessible formats for the blind and visually impaired. Excerpt:
Daily Trust: What was your growing up like?
Oluwakemi Odusanya: My growing up was adventurous.
I was born into a monogamous family of Mr and Mrs Sunday Odusanya in Lagos State.
- ‘I always top my class despite being blind’
- The blind teacher of Jos who has written a hundred books
I attended St. Catherine’s Model School, after which I proceeded to Reagan Memorial Baptist Girls Secondary School from 2002-2006.
I continued my secondary school education at New Era Girls Secondary School before I had issues with my eyes.
I was a concave lens user; I used it from my JSS1 to SS2.
DT: How did you become blind?
Odusanya: I was myopic (short-sighted) as a little child.
However, I was receiving treatment at the Ikeja General Hospital, and gradually it developed into the use of glasses from my JSS1, which aided my vision.
Later on, my eyes adjusted position, the left eye went down gradually but I didn’t know because I was using glasses.
However, I remember there’s a day I was trying to light a match stick and, somehow, a small spark of fire from the matchstick got into my eyes.
I didn’t take it seriously and ignorantly, I was advised by some people to apply onion to the eyes, which I did and continued using my glasses.
Unknown to me, the condition of the eyes was deteriorating until a doctor confirmed that it had completely gone down.
When I got to JSS3, I discovered that my eye glass was becoming weak, and I changed it but that only helped for a short period.
In 2006, on the day I was to sit for my promotional exam into SS2 at the New Era Girls Sec. School, my eyes relapsed.
I noticed my eyes were blurry and my daddy told my uncle to drive me to school, as I would not be able to go to school alone.
Afterwards, I came home myself, as the blur had disappeared.
I further visited my optician who checked my eyes and referred me to a popular Eye Specialist Hospital in Lagos.
There, I was diagnosed for retinal detachment, and prepared for immediate surgery.
After the surgery, I was able to see but unfortunately, on the day I was discharged from the hospital, I accidentally hit my right eye on a car door while coming from the toilet.
I was told by the doctor not to look down, so I was looking up as I was coming out of the toilet, unknown to me that the car door was open.
Then, I noticed that if I look upward, I will see some bubbles, like bubbles of soap in water.
I complained to my doctor, who after checking; placed me for Laser joint, welding the internal part of the eye.
Unfortunately, it did not solve the issue, I was advised to go for a corrective surgery but it did not still solve the problem.
Rather, it exposed the muscles of my eyes, such that when I look at someone, the person appears the other way round.
Also, my eye tissues became visibly noticed.
After some months, another laser was done to correct the situation, but it did not work.
I had another surgery in 2007, and this marked the last I did for the right eye.
When I got to SS2, I dropped out of school because of my eyes condition.
DT: So, how did you forge ahead in your academics in spite of your eyes condition?
Odusanya: I had always cherished being educated, even as a little girl.
I had hope of becoming a medical doctor, and I could remember my daddy prepping me to be a pharmacist.
For my parents, my dropping out of school unsettled them and altered most activities and family connection.
However, an educationist advised my mum that regardless of my eye condition, I could still further my education and become useful in life.
Pacelli School for the Blind, where I was referred to, admits once a year and as at the time, the new session just began, so I had to wait till the next year June 2, 2008 for interview and other processes.
I scaled through and went for a year rehabilitation and then got admission into the Lagos State Model College, Agbowa- Ikosi, Ikorodu, where I switched to Art class, and graduated in 2012.
Thereafter, I gained admission into the University of Lagos (UNILAG) the same year to study Mass Communication and graduated in 2016.
I also attended the National Broadcasting Academy in 2017, and was posted to Zamfara for my National Youth Service Corps programme.
DT: What are some of the challenges faced by visually impaired, especially in having access to braille and how would you describe the attitude of the society towards the blind?
Odusanya: There are several challenges faced by blind persons in the society.
They include discrimination, inaccessibility in all areas like healthcare, education and so on.
People are ignorant of the abilities of blind persons and as such, do not treat them equally.
In terms of education, access to print materials are most times challenging, as there are little or no funds to support conversion of print materials into braille or digital formats for the blind, which affects our education.
When it comes to employment, I am a living witness to what this group of people go through.
I applied to several radio stations, even to the extent of internship with some of them, but most ended up saying there was no vacancy, even when it was clear that there were openings.
Most employers do not have confidence in the ability of the blind and partially sighted persons just as the human resource desks do not know anything about inclusive society.
DT: Based on your experiences, would you say Nigerian schools are built or designed with people with disability in mind? What are some of the hazards visually impaired persons face at school, work place and public places like market, roads etc?
Odusanya: Nigerian schools are not built with persons with disability in mind.
The infrastructures are not accessible; the curriculum is not inclusive in terms of subjects that address disability management and association.
Another challenge is that in the work place, employers do not give special persons the ability to make a difference.
The disconnect between the employer and the blind and visually impaired employee is a huge gap.
The market place on the other hand is a place full of drama as most people tend to become sympathetic towards you.
It’s not easy, I must say.
DT: How did you become the Admin Officer of the Nigeria Association of the Blind (NAB)?
Odusanya: I became the Admin officer of the Nigeria Association of the Blind after several years of volunteering, and I am also a member of the Lagos State Branch of the Association.
I volunteered at NAB during my service year, when I worked to facilitate programs, organised and sought sponsorship for various programs, and as someone with an open mind to unlearn and learn, and affect positive change, I was able to put my feet together for a lasting direction.
DT: How do you think the rate of blindness or eye diseases in children can be reduced to the barest minimum in Nigeria?
Odusanya: I think people need to listen to their body and give it the attention it deserves.
Nonchalant attitude of parents to the yearning of their children causes a great damage to the life or health of the child.
Ignorance and patronising uncertified herbal methods have caused many people great lose.
So, to reduce the rate of blindness in children, parents must learn to listen to their children when they complain about their eyes, and routine medical check-ups should also be a necessity.
Most importantly, it’s not just the regular reading of alphabets like they do in the clinic, you are advised to see an ophthalmologist or eye specialist.
DT: How often does your association get support or assistance?
Odusanya: Not exactly all the time but once in a while, we do get very minimal assistance but we keep pushing.
DT: Do you have hope of seeing again?
Odusanya: Yes, I do, at least with one of my eyes because a doctor once told me that my left eye has chances of seeing again.
So, I am trusting God.
DT: What would you want government to do for the visually impaired in Nigeria?
Odusanya: Government should allocate funds that will be used to produce print materials in accessible formats, and not just braille.
If we have subvention to produce print material in digital or braille formats, it will go a long way to help educate blind students in various institutions, and make learning easier for them.
I’m using this medium to appeal to government to look into the request.