People tell me my wife is beautiful — Visually impaired lecturer


People tell me my wife is beautiful — Visually impaired lecturer

Tolulope Aluko, a lecturer and the President of the Association of Technology-Inclined Visually Impaired Persons of Nigeria, speaks to BABATUNDE TITILOLA about his personal experience with visual impairment, the obstacles encountered, and the association’s initiatives to aid its members despite government indifference

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Can you share a bit about yourself, your family background, and where you were raised?


I am Tolulope Auko. I was born about 50 years ago in Ilesha, Osun State.

Can you provide details about your educational background, including the primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions you attended?

I became blind at the age of five. I attended Pacelli School for the Blind in Lagos State for my primary education, spending four years there. Afterward, I went to a mainstream secondary school.

I studied for my National Diploma at The Polytechnic, Ibadan, in Oyo State between 1988 and 1990, and for my Higher National Diploma from 1994 to 1996. I earned a Master’s in Communication Arts from the University of Ibadan from 2005 to 2007, and I also obtained an MT in Mass Communication from Lead City University. I am a specialist in mass communication.

When did your eye condition first manifest?

My condition started mysteriously. I remember having trouble with my vision, and within 10 minutes, I lost my sight.

Were there any initial treatments following the onset of your eye condition?

Yes, of course. No parent would take such a situation lightly. I was rushed to the hospital in Ilesha. Later, we went to Kano Specialist Hospital, where it was confirmed that it was a complicated cataract and would be impossible to restore my eyesight. We also tried native medicine, but I eventually resigned myself to fate.

At what stage did this happen — during primary school or secondary school?

It was when I was about to commence primary school.

When you realised there was no solution to the eye problem, how did you react, and how did your family respond?

As young as I was back then, I was not happy. My family every day and night continued to weep. They believed that when you are in that condition it is a sign that you are unlucky or that you have sinned against God and God has allowed Satan to deal with you. So, it was a pathetic situation. They were keeping me indoors from morning till night. I did not see the light of the day. They believe that I am constituting a nuisance in the family. So, they thought that the best thing to do was to hide me.

How many people are there in your family?

Well, there are five of us, but unfortunately, we live in a family house, so we have a lot of extended family members.

What is your position in the family?

I’m the second.

How did you manage through primary and secondary school? What were those experiences like for you?

When I grew up, I realised the immense power of the media. My father, working in Lagos State at the time that I had the eye problem and he heard over the radio about a school for blind and partially sighted children called Pacelli in Lagos. He then decided to enroll me in the school. Upon enrolling me, I discovered I was not alone with the condition. There were many other children younger than me with the eye condition. The school had over 150 students and was well-equipped to handle our needs.

Brilliant students like myself received automatic or double promotions, enabling me to complete secondary school in four years. At Pacelli, we were taught braille alongside the regular curriculum to prepare us for secondary education, where sighted teachers couldn’t read braille, but would read our typed work during exams. This method allowed me to navigate the secondary system effectively.

In secondary school, only five of us were blind among 1,500 students. We recorded lessons with tape recorders and transcribed them using braille at home. During exams, we used typewriters, making it easier for teachers to mark our work.

Realising the power of media, I pursued Mass Communication at The Polytechnic Ibadan for my National Diploma and Higher National Diploma. Blind people’s heightened auditory senses aided my concentration. Afterward, I joined the Federal College of Education, Special in Oyo State as a lecturer before pursuing my Master’s at Lead City University.

During your schooling years, did you encounter any stereotypes that made you feel distinct from your peers?

There is discrimination when you are the only blind student in the class. People look at you as if you are genetically wrong, seeing you in a different light entirely. So, discrimination exists. However, when they noticed my performance in secondary school, some of those looking at me differently began to show more interest in me and requested to share knowledge. At Polytechnic, I was also the only blind person in the class. Some discriminated against me while others didn’t mind associating with me. However, the lecturers were very supportive, which made things easier, but discrimination was still present, and I faced it. I viewed my blindness as a challenge rather than a tragedy, which helped me overcome school-related challenges.

Did you ever encounter an experience while growing up that nearly caused you to lose hope in life?

I have had many such experiences, but one was particularly sad. It was during my job search after completing my education. When someone has put in the effort to educate themselves, they should be encouraged in their job search. I remember going from one office to another at the National Assembly with my documents, looking for a job. One day, while explaining my situation to a Personal Assistant, he shouted at me and accused me of begging because of my condition. He questioned the security personnel on why they allowed me inside and ordered them to drag me out. Thankfully, I am a very determined person. If they push me away today, I will return tomorrow. Later, I met a sympathetic senator who facilitated a teaching job for me. Additionally, Oki Ikechukwu, a Special Assistant to a minister also assisted me.

Are you married?

Yes, by the grace of God, I am married. I have started my family. Because I married quite late, I have only one child for now, and he is just in primary school.

When did you meet your wife, and did you marry before or after securing your job?

One thing is, if you don’t have anything, how will a woman marry you? How will you take care of her? I married a sighted woman. People even tell me she is beautiful. So, if I had nothing to offer her, how would she have fallen in love with me? When you are married, that person becomes your assistant, partner, and everything. She becomes your trust, and you should also make her happy so that she will be delighted with you too.

What motivated you to go into lecturing?

I have a passion for teaching. My dream job has always been to become a lecturer. Thankfully, I secured a position at the Federal College of Education Special. What motivated me is that, as I mentioned, I enjoy teaching and sharing knowledge with students. Many people think a blind person cannot lecture effectively, but I have proven them wrong. One thing about blind students is that they are often intelligent. This compensates for their loss of sight. So, when I enter the classroom, I teach to the best of my ability. I employ various teaching methods and have a talent for public speaking, which helps me engage my students effectively. However, teaching at this level differs from primary or secondary school. The students adapt well.

How have you been managing to create your lecture notes, grade assignments, and access materials online?

Of course, to remain relevant, you must put in extra effort in whatever you are doing. However, thank God for technology, I have not had an issue with doing my work. My phone has an application called “Tof” or “Joss”. It’s a voice command that guides you and reads aloud whatever is on the screen. I also use Google to search for and access relevant course materials. Even with Braille, I can teach in class and assign tasks. When I receive their assignments, I need to scan them with my phone and use audio to read everything and grade them appropriately. That’s an additional effort.

During exams, I photograph the answer sheets, no matter how many there are. I have handled up to 200 sheets at once. I then use audio to read them and begin marking. Sometimes, if my phone malfunctions, I can easily ask my wife to read the answers to me so I can grade them. For projects, I instruct my students to email me their topics and chapters. I review them and make necessary corrections. So, technology has been helpful, although it requires extra effort to stay relevant.

Have you switched lecturing positions in the last few years?

Yes, I have switched. Currently, I am a lecturer at a polytechnic.

You don’t want to mention the name of the school?

Not at the moment.

How have you impacted other visually impaired people you’ve encountered, whether students or others?

I am regarded as a leader in the blind community, having lived with this condition for over 40 years. During this time, I’ve gathered intellectually inclined and visually impaired individuals to form an association. I serve as the president of this association, where we interact with and support others like us, encourage parents, and use the association to push the government and society to back greater acceptance and support for people with disabilities, particularly the blind. We seek empathy, not sympathy, as we believe we have much to contribute.

Our motto, “Our inner vision is strong,” guides us to use our inner capabilities to transform our lives and change societal perceptions. Through this effort, we have gradually been altering attitudes and even aiding fellow visually impaired individuals in securing employment, leveraging my own experiences as a blind intellectual.

What motivated you to become the president of the association?

There was no election; I was unanimously selected based on my wealth of experience and contributions to the blind intellectual community.

What challenges does the association encounter both collectively and among its members?

We all have individual differences, whether we are blind or sighted, and we come from diverse family backgrounds. Consequently, challenges are inevitable. For example, differing reasoning styles can present challenges that require us to engage patiently and bring everyone to the same understanding. Some may grasp our perspectives easily, while others may take more time. It’s crucial to maintain unity for our collective benefit.

Financial issues also pose a significant challenge. We appeal to society for financial support to assist our members effectively. We have numerous tasks ahead of us, including providing technological equipment such as Android phones to our members. These tools are essential for navigating today’s digital space. Without access to technology, our educational efforts and inclusivity goals are severely hindered. Laptops and phones are vital instructional materials that enable us to involve our members fully. We would greatly appreciate donations of these items, as they would empower our members to pursue their passions effectively.

What are your thoughts on the Federal Commission for Persons with Disabilities’ directive requiring organisations in Nigeria to allocate 5 per cent of their employment to persons with disabilities? What’s your overall reaction to this initiative and how it’s being enforced?

The Commission has not been very active. Everything regarding the commission exists only on paper. They should conduct investigations and visit these companies to review their compliance with the five per cent requirement.

What steps has your association taken in response to this directive?

We have been advocating strongly for action and urging them to do so, but we have not received a positive response. Perhaps a committee could be established for thorough monitoring and enforcement. I am willing to volunteer for this committee to oversee these matters. The enforcement efforts are currently ineffective.

Whose responsibility is it that the commission has not adequately ensured the enforcement of the allocation?

The Commission needs reform. I don’t think they are fulfilling their mandate. What I expect the Commission to do is summon all disability leaders. There should be a forum instead of focusing on one particular association. The Commission has a misguided approach to how they operate. You can’t expect everyone to belong to one association; it’s unconstitutional. There’s freedom of association. Once an association is registered, they should gather all leaders for a summit to assess enforcement.

Some organisations not complying are even government agencies. How can you expect one government agency to challenge another? It’s not feasible or realistic, but pressure groups can help. We can visit these companies and agencies, examine their staff demographics, and ask, “Where is the five per cent?” Only then can we move forward.

Is the association for visually impaired and technology-inclined persons registered?

Yes, it is registered. There are two associations for the blind in Nigeria. One has been in existence since the 1970s, and another was established in 2018 and has also been registered.

Since its inception, has the association engaged with government agencies or other pressure groups to improve conditions for Persons With Disabilities in Nigeria?

We have engaged several times on the issue of employment. We’ve visited the National Disability Commission and submitted our members’ list, but so far, there has been no response. We also approached the Secretary to the Government of the Federation of Nigeria in 2020, who promised to send letters to the Federal Civil Service Commission, but no action has been taken.

What initiatives has the association implemented to enhance the quality of life for its members?

We engage in mutual aid among ourselves. Members with jobs contribute monthly to support those without employment. However, we continue to call for external assistance in the form of technology devices and secure employment opportunities. Until we get the help we need, we rely on our contributions to support members. Sometimes, we purchase equipment like grinding machines to aid members seeking menial jobs.

Do any of your members have treatable eye conditions?

Most of our members have untreatable conditions, and we have accepted this reality.

Is there any initiative to provide medical treatment for those members with treatable conditions?

We rely on external support for this. Technology devices and employment opportunities are crucial for us to live independently. Medical foundations could greatly assist in this regard.

How would you rate the quality of eye treatment in Nigeria, considering accessibility and affordability?

The quality of eye treatment in Nigeria is poor. Many people who appear sighted are partially blind and reliant on glasses for everyday tasks like driving and reading. Accessibility to affordable treatment is limited, and only a few can afford treatment abroad. We urge the government to improve eye care accessibility to prevent unnecessary blindness among Nigerians.


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