In Nigeria, entry to alternatives for folks with disabilities is an uphill climb. Amidst the challenges, Victor Ekwueme is shining a lightweight by tech, particularly for visually impaired individuals.
When you sit beside software program developer Victor Ekwueme whereas he’s writing or coding, it’s possible you’ll assume he’s a snob who solely desires to be in his world; he would have his earphones on, and his stare at his display wouldn’t waver. What it’s possible you’ll not realise instantly is that he can not see you. His earphones are for him to take heed to his display reader telling him what key he’s hitting.
Ekwueme, 44, is among the many practically seven million people who’re blind in Nigeria. He was born to famend professor of music, composer, and actor Lazarus “Laz” Ekwueme and Lucy Ekwueme, a professor of music schooling.
Earlier than he grew to become visually impaired, he earned a level in laptop science from the College of Lagos in 2002. In 2004, after getting his first grasp’s diploma in data expertise from the College of Nottingham, Ekwueme seen that his sight was failing. Every time he seemed down, he might solely partially see objects in his higher imaginative and prescient area, and if he seemed up, he might solely partially see issues under. A medical analysis later revealed that he had retinitis pigmentosa, a uncommon genetic eye defect affecting 1 in 4,000 folks. It’s incurable; this bug he couldn’t repair.
Moderately than take the blow sitting down, Ekwueme determined to take issues into his personal palms. “I felt that as I used to be shedding my imaginative and prescient, there was little time left for me. So I began consuming as a lot data as I might discover,” he advised TechCabal. “I learn numerous books as a result of I felt they might assist me if I misplaced my imaginative and prescient. I learn developmental books as properly, however that’s once I got here throughout an MIT course on EdX, Introduction to Python Programming.”
In 2011, after he gained the Apps4Africa hackathon for his app known as HospitalManager, his eyesight deteriorated to the purpose the place he couldn’t proceed engaged on creating the app. He determined then to get a job.
As his eyesight declined, Ekwueme needed to get an assistant to navigate every day life. His assistant, Tobi, a pc science scholar, launched him to the display reader on his private laptop, which allowed him to do sure duties independently.
Initially, Victor listed his incapacity on his CV, and, maybe unsurprisingly, he infrequently received known as for interviews. He determined to take away that element, and the interviews began coming. Regardless of his apparent expertise, nobody provided him a job.
“I bear in mind as soon as I went for an interview, and so they gave me an evaluation. My assistant was with me, and I discussed that he’d learn the evaluation with out giving something away. The recruiter in cost stated I ought to learn it myself. I advised him I used to be blind, and I couldn’t, and so they simply reduce the interview quick,” Ekwueme revealed.
Many individuals with visible impairments can relate to Ekwueme’s story. In 1994, Opeoluwa Akinola, CEO and co-founder of AccessTech, had the identical expertise. Akinola additionally has retinitis pigmentosa. As a younger graduate of the College of Lagos, Akinola interviewed at an audit agency. As a result of confidential nature of the job, he wasn’t allowed to have an assistant learn paperwork for him. He didn’t have entry to assistive expertise to work independently. This was the second Akinola determined that he’d guarantee that folks with visible impairments didn’t get axed out of alternatives due to their incapacity. Twenty-six years later, Akinola created AccessTech, an organisation devoted to offering assistive expertise instruments and coaching blind folks on digital expertise.
AccessTech desires inclusion by assistive expertise
Although formally integrated in 2020, AccessTech dates approach again to when Akinola vowed that blind folks would cease lacking out on jobs on a big scale. Between 1999 and 2007, he skilled as a pc technician, taught himself how you can use the pc after which developed the curriculum on the Nigerwives Pc Coaching and Braille Manufacturing Centre, an NGO that taught blind folks digital literacy. Whereas working as a marketing consultant, he additionally received licensed as a professional in accessibility core competencies. He’s one of many three people who find themselves licensed in Nigeria.
Now, AccessTech companions with organisations within the US, Europe, and Asia to supply assistive expertise within the type of gadgets and coaching on how you can use and keep such gadgets. One such partnership is the Assistive Know-how Expertise Centre in Lagos, in partnership with Microsoft AI4 Accessibility which was launched in April 2023. It’s inside this programme that they’ve collaborated with Ekwueme to show rudimentary information analytics to younger folks with visible impairments.
“The target of this coaching is to open up alternatives for blind individuals as information analysts. Most blind youngsters are relegated to the humanities whereas rising up; they’re not allowed to discover their abilities. Most blind folks sometimes find yourself as attorneys, academics or within the civil service. We consider that opening up a tech profession will assist them diversify their alternatives,” Emmanuela Akinola, co-founder and COO of AccessTech, advised TechCabal.
As an knowledgeable in information analytics, and together with his incapacity, Ekwueme is the proper tutor within the coaching’s pilot version. The contributors are superior customers of computer systems with display readers and have a very good understanding of statistics.
Based on the World Health Organisation (WHO), roughly 26.3 million folks within the African Area have a type of visible impairment. Of those, 20.4 million have low imaginative and prescient and 5.9 million are estimated to be utterly blind. It’s estimated that 15.3% of the world’s blind inhabitants resides in Africa. AccessTech has thought-about this and isn’t limiting its scope to Lagos. They’re hoping they’ll accomplice with the Nigerian authorities to incorporate visually impaired individuals within the three million technical coaching programme instituted by Bosun Tijani, Nigeria’s minister of communications and data expertise, and finally develop their footprint to different African nations.
“The objective is to have blind folks amongst them and cut back digital illiteracy amongst individuals with disabilities,” Akinola stated.
Ekwueme, who has one other grasp’s diploma in clever computational techniques from the College of Dundee, believes within the coaching as a result of he desires extra folks with visible impairments to be expert in expertise to allow them to contribute higher to society.
“It’s in order that blind persons are not simply restricted to craft-making like tie-and-dye or bead making. We will practice them to be correctly assimilated into society in high-tech jobs to develop within the trade and be (financially) unbiased,” Ekwueme stated.
The coaching, which began on October 21, will run each weekend for eight weeks. Ekwueme, now an Odoo specialist and information scientist at Chams, a Nigerian firm offering built-in expertise options, resides proof that with sufficient entry to assistive expertise and extra accessible digital merchandise in Africa, folks with visible impairments can dwell independently and with dignity.
Academia will not be an unfamiliar terrain for Ekwueme, with each dad and mom being professors. Sooner or later, Ekwueme hopes to earn a doctorate in synthetic intelligence.