Jolomi Fenemigbo is a young web designer. After losing his sight at the age of 18, life took a different turn for him. He told Toluwalope Kareem some of the hurdles he’s scaled to get to where he is today
At what point in your life did you lose your sight, and how did this affect your growing up?
I lost my sight at the age of 18 in 2003. It is a day I can never forget. I had just concluded my last paper for my Senior School Certificate Examination which was Yoruba. I had fun all through the day with my friends, I was so happy.
But by the time I woke up from bed the next day, I couldn’t see anything anymore. I was in fear. I practically could do nothing. It was a very difficult time for me. Eventually, I began to lose my friends and I stopped going out and doing the things I loved to do. It was a period of isolation from the outside world for me. I was at home for five years and did nothing tangible.
However, one day I realised that isolating myself wasn’t going to help me and that it could even affect me intellectually. So, I decided to go to the school of the visually impaired to learn how I could survive with my new situation. It was from that point that my perception changed and I began to see things in a different light.
Before you finally lost your sight, was there any symptom, and is there a history of visual impairment in your family?
I was initially born blind. However, with medical attention, doctors were able to revive back only one of my eyes. As a matter of fact, throughout my childhood days, I made use of only one eye. It was like that until I lost that too.
What specific steps were taken at the time you lost your sight?
My parents sought medical help; they tried their best to help me recover my sight back but to no avail. Eventually I told them not to bother because I had already accepted my fate. I felt bad because they had spent a lot of money and there were other expenses at home which needed to be handled. They were willing to go on searching for a solution but I told them to stop
After graduating from the visually impaired school, did you further your education?
After my one year studies at the visually impaired school, I went for computer training and also learnt how to use the typewriter. I then proceeded to the Nigerian Institute of Journalism where I studied for five years before graduating in 2014.
However, I still have plans to further my studies at the university which I intend to pursue from next year.
Did family and friends stand by you after the incident or they deserted you?
Family would always be family. Though I have heard of loved ones who desert their own, my family stood by me, took care of me and encouraged me. When I lost all hope, my family gave me strength. But some friends left me as a result of my situation.
What was life like for you before losing your sight, especially childhood?
I had an interesting life where everything I wanted was always provided by my parents. I had great friends and people all around me at that period of my life. I was enthusiastic about life and really wanted to go places
To be honest, I wanted to be a soldier at that period of my life, that was my biggest dream then. But after I lost my sight, I decided to do other things with my life.
You are into web designing now, how did this passion come about?
Aside web designing, I also clone the computer. During my final year in school, I knew that getting a job would be difficult for me because majority of the physically challenged people in the country find it tough to secure a job due to discrimination.
With this mindset, I carefully analysed the whole situation and thought of web designing as a way out for me. Since I already had knowledge of the computer, I simply went for more training. I attended an academy run by some Australians; it was designed for people with special needs. It was over there that I learnt web designing, Information Technology essentials, wordpress and many more things.
In searching for a job, what type of experience did you have considering your disability?
I had a lot of funny experiences in searching for a job. I just secured a job this year, four years after graduating from NIJ. It was tough for me, but I give God the glory.
I submitted my resume at different places; I wasn’t lazy about searching for a job and never gave up despite various disappointments. Most companies felt reluctant to give me a job as a result of my disability while some didn’t even bother to collect my CV.
I remember one sad experience where my friend gave me information he got from a reliable source that a particular company was currently recruiting and asked me to go there and try my luck. I was so happy that I dressed up immediately and took my CV there. Immediately I got there, I was asked to leave; that beggars were not allowed there. I smiled and walked out of the place.
In my search for job, I have been hit by a motorcycle while trying to cross the road. I have fallen into the gutter on several occasions in the process as well. But I thank God that I was finally able to secure a job. If every employer could be like my current employer, who really understands the purpose of inclusiveness, I believe Nigeria would be a good place for people with disabilities to live in.
The truth is that most employers don’t really know our worth until they employ us and give us the chance to showcase our talents. People with disabilities need a chance to prove their worth. At my current place of work, I handle research for the organisation; monitor our websites, emails without any assistance. I urge employers to give us the opportunity to show our competency as we have a whole lot to contribute to the growth of their organisations.
How difficult or easy has it been for you to go to all the places you need to be considering your visual impairment?
The loss of my sight has not stopped me from going to the places I need to go. I do not have an assistant; I only have my cane as guide.
I am glad that at the least the BRT system in Lagos has made movement from one place to another easy for people like me. However, if government can build more pavements by the roadsides, it would help people like us a lot.
Would you say your disability has opened or closed more doors to you?
It has opened more doors for me because there are a whole lot of things I understand and know now which I didn’t know before. Disability has been a blessing to me. I have been able to know and understand myself better since losing my sight. My disability has been a source of inspiration, as it makes me push myself to do better in life.
If you were granted one wish by God, what would that be?
I would wish for prosperity and not to regain my sight because that ship has sailed a long time ago. At this point in my life, I have learnt to accept who I am. All I pray for is prosperity and to excel in life.
Are you married or in any sort of relationship, and how did you meet her?
Yes, I am currently in a relationship but not married yet. I met her through a friend. We started talking and became friends. Her gift of sight is still intact but she loves and accepts me for who I am.
Did people discourage her from being with you?
That is a normal thing which happens to even people with sight. But God has made us to be together regardless of any form of discouragement from some quarters.
How do you relax?
I love to play games a lot. I love computer games, I love watching movies as well. This is aside from reading and browsing on the Internet that are hobbies for me as well.
What has been your biggest source of inspiration?
It has been God because every day I wake up, has presented an opportunity for me to thank Him and do better than the previous day.
Do you think that as a society, people are becoming more aware of the needs of people living with disabilities?
No, the awareness level is still very low and people really need to know about every form of disability. I have seen people hiding because they can’t face the world; I have also seen situations where parents hide their children inside the house because they have a form of disability. They are not aware of schools and institutions that are in place for this kind of people to learn and improve themselves.
This must change for us to be able to say we have got to a level of awareness in this regard.
What are some of the biggest lessons disability has taught you?
The most important lesson that my disability has taught me is tranquility. I am at peace with myself. I could remember that before I lost my sight, I had a lot of issues which I wasn’t really proud of. But ever since this happened, and I embraced my fate, I have come to realise who I truly am.
My disability has taught me to be calm and gentle. It has taught me to be silent and observe before reacting.
What are your major plans for the next few years?
I plan to set up an organisation that would advocate for the rights of visually impaired persons in Nigeria. I also want to advocate for the use of technology, because I am a serious advocate for assistive technology.
I want to enable the blind communities to understand how important technology can be to us in terms of employment, academics and many more.