…Challenges of visually impaired
By Josfyn Uba And Henry Okonkwo
In spite of the progress made in surgical techniques in many countries in the last decade, cataract (47.9%) remains the leading cause of visual impairment in many countries of the world. The degree varies, rescind in more developed societies.
Other main causes of visual impairment are glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), corneal opacities, diabetic retinopathy, childhood blindness, trachoma and onchocerciasis
In the least-developed countries, and in particular Sub-Saharan Africa, the causes of avoidable blindness are primarily cataract, glaucoma corneal opacities, trachoma, childhood blindness, and onchocerciasis
In addition to uncorrected refractive errors, these six diseases that have effective known strategies for their elimination, make up the targets of the WHO[World Health Organisation] Global Initiative to Eliminate Avoidable Blindness, “VISION 2020: The Right to Sight”. This is aimed at eliminating these causes as a public health problem by the year 2020.
Cataract, onchocerciasis, and trachoma are the principal diseases for which world strategies and programmes have been developed. For glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, uncorrected refractive errors, and childhood blindness, the development of screening and management strategies for use at the primary care level is ongoing at WHO.
But worldwide, between 300 million and 400 million people are visually impaired due to various causes. Of this group, approximately 50 million people are totally blind, and unable to see light in either eye. In all of these, 80% of blindness occurs in people over 50 years old.
So, what does it feel like to lose one’s sight?
To many sighted people, the prospect of losing one’s sight is terrifying. They think about what they would lose: independence, visual beauty and reading generally. Pretty awful, indeed?
Naturally, navigating through life, as a visually impaired person could be a very painful experience but it is more challenging in Nigeria. This is because society finds it exceedingly hard to accept and assist people who need special care. These challenged individuals are usually shunned to the point that they feel alienated. Picture the agony that goes through the mind of one that losses his sight at an adult stage of life.
For people with sight, it is hard to imagine how a blind person navigates through the challenges of life on a daily basis.
However, the story of Mr. Solomon Mishack, Mr. Rasak Adekoya and Mrs. Christiana Kehinde Akinrunmade tells of their resilience in finding ability in disability. The trio are visually impaired. They lost their sight at an advanced stage of their life. At first, it was tough for them to readjust to their predicament, but they rose to weather the storms and challenges. Today, they are doing well in their different endeavours and their lives buttresses that visual disability does not always lead to inability.
Daily Sun encountered three visually impaired persons and sought to know on what it feels like living without sight.
They told stories of how they lost their precious sense of sight, the trauma that followed because of the discrimination, how they got retrained to get relevant again in the society and of course, how they rehabilitated themselves.
Blind is beautiful –Solomon Mishack, School administrator:
Solomon Mishack, 31, was only 13 years old when he was diagnosed of Glaucoma. It was odd to him and his parents because this is a condition that occurs among more mature adults. Many thought it was a joke, but his blurring sight kept worsening. He managed this condition for nine years. But when he clocked 22, Mishack lost the battle to keep his sight. And on that fateful day, all Mishack did was to call his wife to tell her the sad news. “My wife already knew about my condition since 2000 when we started dating. I told her I had a blinding disease, back when I could still see faintly. So when I finally could not see any more in 2006, I remember just picking up the phone and saying to her, ‘Sweetie, my sight is gone’”.
Even when he put up a bold face to his challenge, moving on was not easy. “I faced rejection from many quarters. Do you know how it feels when you take your CV to an employer and he tells you ‘we don’t have an environment for you?’ But I vowed to keep believing in myself. Most of us blind persons don’t have issues with blindness, we just have issue with our self-esteem.”
This indigene of Aviara, in Isoko-South LG of Delta State, is the first child in a family three. He has two other younger siblings- a sister and brother, who do not have any visual ailment. ‘Pity’ is one word Mishack detests. And he abhors being dependent on anyone. Hence, he started out seeking rehabilitation by enrolling at the Vocational Training Centre, Oshodi; a rehabilitation ground for visually impaired individuals established by the Federal Nigerian Society for the Blind (FNSB). There, he learnt viable skills in handicraft.
He also successfully completed his secondary education, and went even further to clinch a Diploma certificate in Communication Studies, and a Degree in Mass Communication at the Lagos State University (LASU). These academic feats forged him to be a manager of resources and leader of men. Presently, he works as an administrator of a thriving secondary school in Ikotun area of Lagos. There, he coordinates the activities of scores of staffs and students of the school. According to Mishack, his appointment raised an eye brow in the school. “I remember when I came on board, one of the senior staff in the school threw in his resignation letter. He said he couldn’t work under a blind administrator. I learnt he said it is a disgrace to his person. But I didn’t feel bad, rather I felt spurred to prove myself because I wasn’t made an administrator out sympathy. And I thank God that the story is different today because my tenure has brought a lot of dynamism in the school.”
Today, the 31 year old young man brags about his visually impaired state. “I have done and achieved so much as a blind person. God has been faithful because it has been very interesting. I must say that I fill fulfilled now. In fact, I love being blind. I love the attention I get doing things ‘normal’ people do,” he said.
Mishack’s life has been fraught with loads of bitter-sweet experiences. One of his unforgettable experiences was he fell into a freshly dug soak-away pit. “I don’t like talking about memorable days because I have a lot of them. But I won’t ever forget February 4, 2006, when I fell into a freshly dug soaker-away pit that was left open. I was sitting all alone in the house. And I hate sitting at a point because I am tenacious and active. So, I was walking around the compound and fell into the pit. I was in there for almost an hour, screaming for help until somebody heard, and came to pull me out. Another memorable moment for me was November 27, 2010. It was the day I married my wife. It was like a dream come true when her family finally agreed to allow her marry me. It took 10 years before I got the nod to marry her. Also l won’t forget in a hurry when I bagged a Degree from Lagos State University.”
Being visually impaired has not in any way hampered Solomon Mishack from enjoying everything sighted persons take pleasure in. He enjoys television programmes and loves music a lot. “The only thing I don’t get involved in is sports. For no reason, I don’t really love sports. In my house, we only watch soap operas, movies or the news. I love music especially slow songs. Many people call it sensual songs. And I love it because it puts me in the mood,” he said with a smile.
He continues: “I tell myself that I live for two reasons. One of them is to make people happy and the other is to disgrace some people. As Africans, we hear a lot of people allege that somebody is behind my blindness. I don’t really believe that, but if really somebody is behind it, I am sure that person never intended that I would go this far. By now, I am sure the person has been disgraced and disappointed.”
I lost my sight, but found vision- Adekoya, Author, and Software developer
Rasak Adekoya hails from Ibeju-Lekki, Lagos State. He also was not visually impaired at birth. He had enjoyed a flourishing career as an On-Air-Personality until the bubble burst in 2007. He was presenting a programme, when a little explosion occurred at the studio. The explosion did nothing to Rasak’s eyes at that time. The only problem he noticed was the redness in his eye. Many attributed it to the regular exposure to beams of the studio lightings. He went to a medical doctor, who gave him some eye drops, which he applied. And in no time, his eyes got clear again. But his tragedy has only just begun. “In 2010, I started having problems with the eye again. I couldn’t see far, and images appeared blurred to me. I went to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), and was told to come back in the next eight months to see their eye specialist. I wondered why I should wait for eight months before I see the doctor. I presumed it might not even be a serious eye problem. So I ignored them and moved on with life.
“Then in 2011, my condition went from bad to critical. Again I went searching for medical help. I declined going to LASUTH. And fortunately a friend linked me to an eye specialist at University College Hospital (UCH) Ibadan. I couldn’t meet the specialist because doctors were on strike then. But I later went to the specialists after the doctors’ strike was called off.
“At Ibadan, they examined my eye, and adduced that I could be suffering from Retinal Detachment. They explained that the explosion in the studio in 2007, could have deposited some chemicals at the back of the eyes. And as a result, the retina, which is the most sensitive part of the eye, was detached from the brain. I was told they could do the surgery but that they lacked a particular machine that they would utilize to carry out the surgery. They called the equipment a lens, and told me it costs about $5000. They advised me to hurry up and go for surgery because the condition of my retina is now critical. They gave three alternative hospitals where I can carry out the surgery, -The National Eye Centre Kaduna, Eye Foundation at Ikeja, or I could travel out and do the surgery abroad. I ruled out Kaduna because of the activities of terrorists. I settled for the Eye Foundation because it is situated in Lagos.
“Getting treatment at the Eye Foundation is very expensive. For you to pick a card costs as much as N10, 000 as at 2012. I met the doctors and gave them the referral letter. They went through, ran some checks on me, and also came to their own conclusion that I indeed had Retinal Detachment. They recommended surgery. The bill was heavy, but after so much pleading I was billed N750, 000. Unfortunately, after the surgery, the worse situation got worst. Prior to the operation, I use to see slightly but after the surgery, my sight went totally bad. Before I could walk alone, but after the operation, I can’t walk without an aid anymore.”
That was how Rasak succumbed to a total loss of his vision. The only explanation the doctors gave him was that they meant well, and that they did their best to restore his sight but it went awry. Rasak was left with no option than to commence life as a special person, which is no easy metamorphosis. The new way of living was tough for him. He rejected himself even before people started rejecting him. Life became cold, dark and lonely. “I felt terrible because I can longer see who enters the house. I would open the window and just stare with no image forming. I cannot watch my favourite TV programme anymore. I lived in solitude. And all I did was to sleep, wake up and go back to sleep again.”
His most depressing moment was when he enrolled to take a course in the University of Ibadan. He is used to reading academic books with his eyes. But now without his sight, he reads books with his ears. “It took a while before I adapted to reading with the ears. That was one of the most distorting moments in my life.”
“Another thing that made me feel bad about losing my sight is the way Nigerians treat you. They make one to dwell in this terrible realm of pitifulness. And if one is not careful he would dwell in it and never move out of it. People who do not comprehend blindness will assume and act on things without any confirmation or even a moment’s thought on how their actions might affect us, the visually challenged. The society thinks that if you cannot see, you probably cannot think or feel either. But they are wrong: the visually impaired are also people”, he noted.
After about one year of sadness and dejection, Rasak decided he must move on with life. “I told myself that since I’m not dead, I’ve to explore and utilize the few opportunities I have. I tried to revive my career in broadcasting. I went for series of audition at a radio station and passed. But during the final interview session with the owner of the station, he told me plainly that I cannot be given the job because they needed someone that can work independently. He urged me to go and see certain doctor that would help me. I went to the doctor, and he referred me to the FNSB. I went in 2013 and was rehabilitated for a year.”
After his rehabilitation Rasak became more prepared to face life as a visually challenged person.
Today, he has a registered company- 360 Connect Communication; a venture that is floated to add value in the lives of both the sighted and the sightless. His firm provides personal development, assistive technology and advocacy services. “I’m a public speaker and an author. I am a life coach and a business consultant. I also build applications and websites. I develop software with our local languages for visually impaired people who do not understand English, French, German or Arabic. Even applications that are meant to recognize money, doesn’t recognize our own Naira but it recognizes Dollar. This shows that the people overseas design these apps for their own people, so if we don’t design our own applications, nobody would do that for us. Many sighted people run away from designing apps, unless they are doing it for banks or companies that would pay good money. They care more about their financial gains rather than the impact they would make. My company also tries to reach out to government on finding ways to get regulations that would be of good to the physically challenged. In overseas, the government mandates that every app developed must be made so that everyone could assess it including physically challenged people but we don’t have such regulation from our Ministry of Science and Technology.”
Having achieved this feat, in spite of his visual impairment, he sees his loss of sight as a blessing in disguise. “When I was not challenged by sight, I lived a selfish life. But I have realised that a life without any impact on people, is a life of nothingness. Although, I make little money from my company but I am so happy that I am impacting on lives.”
At the home front, Rasak is the first child in a family of four (three boys and one girl). His father is late, thus he plays the fatherly role in the home. Rasak is independent and do not want to be a burden to his siblings. He does his laundry by myself and also cooks food when nobody is at home.
I was abandoned when I lost my sight –Mrs. Akinrunmade
Before losing her sight, Mrs. Christiana Kehinde Akinrunmade was an energetic career lady that loved driving. Her love for driving made her shuttle long distance routes with no hassles. For Mrs. Akinrunmade, driving from Lagos to Abuja was a piece of cake. But all those energy waned when she became visually impaired.
And she had a fulfilling career as a banker. She worked in so many banks, rising through the ranks and holding various positions. The peak of her career was when she became the Managing Director of a thriving micro-finance bank. There, she paid her dues leading the bank. Later, she resigned and left to enjoy life after the hard work involved in leading a financial house.
Sadly though, barely two years after her resignation from banking, she noticed blurriness in her seeing. She was diagnosed of Glaucoma. This eye disorder ravaged her sight, and like a flickering candle gradually burning out, her seeing started getting dimmer and dimmer until she became blind.
Her fast paced career as a banker, did not allow her seek medical attention immediately when she noticed some slight in her sight. Furthermore the incessant strike of medical doctors was another contributing factor that led to the loss Mrs. Christiana’s sight. “I have always noticed my eye has issues, but as a banker, my busy schedule didn’t allow me go for proper medical attention. But in 2011 after I resigned from banking, I went for treatment at the hospital. And I was told to come back in three month time to see their eye consultant. After waiting for three months, I still could not consult an optician, because that was the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) declared a nationwide strike. That compounded my problem, and by the time I went to a private hospital, it was already late. I was diagnosed of advanced glaucoma. And in 2012, I lost my sight.”
Mrs Akinrunmade felt shattered. She concluded that it was over for her. Pain and despair tinged her life when she noticed rejection from her family and friends. Nobody wanted to be around her. And her family would hide her inside the room to avoid visitors seeing her.
“When we have outing in the family, nobody would want to take me along. And when we have visitors, I am asked to get into the room to avoid being seen. Even when I would want to go to some places like the church, nobody would want to go with me. On many occasions, I would sense the presence of the people that I helped when I was sighted. And even when I hear their voices, they would not even bother to come and greet me. My situation was seen as disgraceful. And many felt that it is over for me. Many dumped me, but I challenged myself to bounce back.”
Visual impairment might have changed her, but she refused to be reduced by her predicament. And it was with that belief that the Ondo State born mother of two sought her way to be retrained and reformed. “Each time I sit alone and wonder if this is the way I would end up. I recalled when I had a fledging career as a marketing executive in a bank. I developed concepts and products that improved the bank’s fortune. I recalled how I broke new grounds on where other bankers feared to tread. So I charged myself to move on and to move with my life.
According the former banker manger, life again became worth living when she enrolled to be rehabilitated at Vocation Training School, Oshodi. “I feel so happy coming out to retrain myself. I mingle with fellow visually impaired students, and together we motivate, joke and make jest of our sightlessness. I have discovered so much more of my potentials. Now, I can type and use the Braille. I can operate a computer again, and I have acquired so much handicraft and skills.”
To thousands of visually impaired persons weighed down by dejection and rejection, Mrs Akinrunmade admonished them to rise above their pity party, and take their destinies in their hands. “They should know that God knows best. So they should never look down on themselves. Believe in yourself and look for how you can add value to the society.
We, the visually impaired ones must try to challenge ourselves to be productive. But Nigerians should know that individuals with visual impairment need to be encouraged and motivated, to keep their spirit up. Many in our condition contemplated suicide. Instead of being idle and resort to self pity, they should engage in activities themselves busy.