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Opinions of Friday, 24 April 2015

Columnist: Donkor, Alex

Disability Doesn’t Mean Incapability

Optimism in the Midst of Darkness: Disability Doesn’t Mean Incapability

As a manful optimist, I firmly believe that an acquisition of a requisite knowledge is an invitation for an individual to secure a desirable career, regardless of a disability.

I do not consider myself as an agnostic, yet if a soothsayer had foretold some years back that I would be achieving so much at Clarity-Employment for Blind People, I would have scoffed at the foreteller and his predictions.

In 1992, a mysterious disease affected my eyes and in the process developed retinal detachment in both eyes. The deterioration of the vision was sudden in the left eye, and insidious in the right eye. Having battled strenuously over nine years to save the failing vision, however unsuccessful, I accepted the verdict of clinical blindness in 2001. My Ophthalmic Consultant suggested the blind status to me. After a brief consultation with the hospital Social Welfare team, I acquiesced to the proposal. It was heartrending, so to speak.

In as much as I was disappointed, my new status did not discourage me, but it rather renewed my long held conviction to arise and shine regardless of the unwarranted glass ceilings.

Upon confirmation of my new status, I disclosed the news to my employer back then, but to my surprise, my employer took the news with a pinch of salt. The news left my employer with puzzled countenance, needless to say that, I lost my job following a managerial restructuring process in 2004.

I was in a state of ambivalence. I soliloquized repeatedly: “if an organisation I have worked hard for all those years could not retain me because of my sight loss, then what chance do I have to secure a new job?”

But, amazingly, as the cloud of despair was about to descend on me, a benevolent organisation (Clarity Employment for Blind People) intervened and restored my hopes and aspirations.

It all started when my Disability Employment Adviser (DEA) at Jobcentre Plus intervened and promised wholeheartedly to support my quest to secure a suitable job.

Initially, I enrolled on a Sales and Communication skills course for approximately six months. Upon successful completion of the Sales and Communication skills course, I took up a voluntary job with a charitable organisation as a part time receptionist. Whilst working as a part time volunteer receptionist, I enrolled on the organisation’s computer course and learned how a visually impaired can use ‘JAWS’ screen reading software to access computer. I embraced the course with unstinting devotion and mastered the basic computer skills.

Even though, I was engaged in a voluntary work, I remained an active job seeker. For this reason, I was obliged to visit the Jobcentre Plus now and then. It was during one of such visits that my Disability Employment Adviser apprised me of the opportunities that abound in Clarity Employment for Blind People.

The Adviser enquired whether if I would be prepared to explore Clarity’s ‘fountain of opportunities ‘. I gave a nod in affirmation, albeit, after a brief hesitation. A meeting was arranged between the Personal Development Manager and me. That day arrived and I proceeded to Clarity and held a meeting with the Personal Development Manager. Further to that meeting, I was offered employment. I commenced work formally on 25 September 2005.

When I joined Clarity, I became aware of the opportunities that abound in the organisation. So I did not rest on my laurels; I really hit the ground running. I must emphasise that in addition to the provision of bespoke training and employment for disabled people, Clarity genuinely supports individuals to realize their dreams. In actual fact, Clarity is ever ready to support individuals to make transition into open employment, if they so wish. In my humble opinion, Clarity can be described as ‘a safe haven or a springboard’ for less fortunate in the society (e.g. disabled people). Verily, I am a living testimony to such assertion.

When I joined Clarity, I initially acquainted myself with the Production/Manufacturing Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’S). Subsequently, I enrolled on Clarity’s Touch Typing Course which has been designed for visually impaired employees. I became a competent touch typist within a short space of time.

In 2007, upon the management’s permission, I enrolled on City and Islington College’s Foundation Degree course (Management) on part-time basis. Ideally, I would have opted for full-time, but my work and family commitments at the time did not permit me to do so. Nevertheless, I managed to combine the heavy demands of my job with the hectic academic scheme of work and completed the course successfully in 2009.

Upon successful completion of the Foundation Degree, I was offered a place on City University’s Bachelor of Science Programme (Management) in 2009. The Programme was extremely challenging, but with persistency, coupled with a consuming desire for success, I graduated successfully in 2012.

Following my graduation in 2012, I applied for approximately five job vacancies. I attended one interview, however I was unsuccessful. I progressed to the second stage of selection process in the other four, nevertheless I was eliminated. To be quite honest, I did not feel dejected, because I was very optimistic that a suitable job will come along.

In the process of seeking for a more challenging role, I was offered a place on Kingston University’s Masters Programme in International Human Rights. However, the exigencies that followed the relocation of Clarity-Employment for Blind People from the North of London to the East of London in April 2013 threatened my enrolment on the Masters Programme. So I was extremely excited when the Chief Executive of Clarity promised to offer his continuous support.

I respectfully requested for a part time work so as to complete the one year Master of Arts in Human Rights programme at Kingston University London. Unsurprisingly, the management showed earnest gesture of goodwill and approbated my request.

In a way, my affiliation with Clarity-Employment for Blind People has changed my mind-set tremendously. I have come to acknowledge why there is a need to help, support, protect, promote and defend the inalienable human rights of the vulnerable and the needy in the society. It is against this backdrop that I made up my mind to pursue a masters degree in Human Rights.

The scope of the course was extensive and challenging. It dealt with political developments in the UK, in Europe and internationally. It looked at nation-states, international and transnational organisations, but also at campaigning movements and pressure groups, recognising how much the development and securing of human rights owe to them. The course also addressed both the study of the current international situation and of relations between states and non-state actors where conflicts have resulted in considerable violations of human rights.

Again, the course focused on challenges and demands that have resulted from the continual and growing movements of people, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants fleeing conflicts and seeking better lives. The course is underpinned by grounding in case law in human rights.

I am pleased to announce that I successfully completed the Masters Programme and I also received academic prize from Kingston University for the best academic performance in the International Human Rights Department for 2013/14 academic year.

As a matter of fact, disability does not mean inability, so you should never give up on your dreams if you have a disability. Even though society has unjustifiably constructed physical, social, economic, political and cultural barriers that somehow prevent disabled people from realising their fundamental human rights, never allow the unwarranted glass ceilings block your dreams. And, always remember that “the greatest problem that confronts a man is not lack of eyesight, but it is rather lack of foresight.”

Author: Alex Donkor.