BY SOLA OGUNDIPE
EVEN though she lost her sight at the tender age of 11, Ejiro Okotie has never lost sight of herself. She may not be sighted, but she has foresight. As a growing child she always knew what she wanted out of life. Today, as a full-grown young adult, battling the challenge of disability, Ejiro has nevertheless undergone a decisive transformation.
Armed with an impressive dossier and wealth of acumen to match her striking looks, she radiates confidence, courage and determination rarely exhibited by the average Person With Disability, PWD. She is the Project Coordinator, HIV/AIDS, Nigeria Association of The Blind, Lagos State branch.
“I hail from Okpara in Delta State. I’m Urhobo by tribe. I lost my sight to Cerebro-Spinal Meningitis, CSM, at the age of 11. It was not properly diagnosed and treated, and so I lost my sight,” she stated during an encounter recently.
Ejiro, now 30, was in JSS 2 at that time. She related how she was compelled to proceed on a six-month rehabilitation at the Pacelli School for the Blind in Lagos to learn to read Braille and also to type. Afterwards, she went back to school and continued from where she left off. “After finishing from Queens College, Lagos, I obtained a Diploma and later a Degree in International Studies and Diplomacy from the University of Benin, Benin City, Edo State. Currently I am pursuing a Masters programme in Public and International Affairs at the University of Lagos”, she remarked.
With a palpable passion about the plight of women and girls that are visually impaired, Ejiro is desirous of ensuring such women and girls with disabilities are economically empowered and enabled in terms of information to make them live better lives.
As the substantive HIV/AIDS Project Coordinator, Nigeria Association of the Blind, NAB, Lagos State branch, she spoke at a public policy dialogue on the inclusion and access of persons with disabilities to HIV/AIDS policies and services in Lagos State.
In her presentation at the event put together by the Disability Policy and Advocacy Initiative, DPAI, in partnership with the Nigeria Association for the Blind, entitled: “Disabilities and HIV/AIDS, Perceptions, Attitudes and Barriers”, she lamented the plight of persons with disabilities in society.
“We understand that persons with disabilities are not fully captured in HIV intervention programmes so there is a call for inclusion in implementation of programmes relating to prevention of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria,: she said.
Ejiro mentions factors contributing to spread of HIV among persons living with disabilities ranging from poverty to lack economic empowerment and negotiating power, low condom use, sexual abuse, disabilities, and many more. “There are so many perceptions,” she noted.
Not particularly at home with the common belief that persons with disabilities cannot contract HIV because they do not have needs, Ejiro asserted: “We are human, so we have needs.”
In her own view, in advocacy, you do not throw in all issues at the same time.
“You pick on areas point-by-point to attain success. NAB is involved in issues affecting different sectors and areas as they affect persons with challenge of sight and we organise to highlight these issues. The focus is to see how persons with disabilities can be fully included in the scheme of things.”
Ejiro’s driving force is the desire to make something of life. “I lost my sight at a tender age, therefore my desire is to move on and be a source of strength to others. When I lost my sight, my mother was broken and I knew I had to be strong for her and the rest of the family. That resulted very strong determination.”
As a youth living with eyesight disability, Ejiro had to do a lot on her own. “I tell people that as a person with disability, 80 percent of the effort is on you. You are what you think of society and what you give is what you get. If you are able to give positively, you will get positive results back. That is how I live my life.
Her biggest challenge in the past was mobility, but now she can navigate. “I had difficulty moving from point A to point B. But really, this turned out to be an asset. The loss of my sight has brought out the best in me. It has caused me to grow up with determination to make an impact on the lives of young black women, especially the visually impaired.”
Asked what she would do if in position of authority, Ejiro remarked: “The first thing I would do would be to ensure that relevant policies are available and implemented. I would ensure proper education and enlightenment of health and public service providers and also ensure there are adequate facilities in place to meet the needs of the visually disabled. These facilities must be available and asscessible.”