Double Invisibility simply connotes a situation where a human being embodies more than one marginalized identity, thus subject to more discrimination, stigmatization and oppression than what they would have been exposed to if they belonged to only one marginalized group.
Women and girls with disabilities are subject to multiple discrimination both in the public and private sphere of life, (if it is not already obvious), by virtue of their gender and impairment.
In this Interview, a Legally Blind Nigerian Woman shares her experiences on what life is like for her when these two identities intersect.
Chidinma is a lawyer, legal tech enthusiast and feminist. She likes to write, transcribe, but she talks even better. Unapologetically, she is in an unhealthy relationship with good food and wine.
Hello. Can I Please Know Your Name, Age and Sexuality?
My name is Chidinma. I’m 29. Sexuality is fluid, so I’d like to think I’m heteroflexible.
What Disability Are You Living With?
I’m legally blind (not because I’m a lawyer), but because I’m blind but not totally. I use a blind cane for mobility, magnifiers, prescription lens, and other assistive tech to read and work. I don’t recognize faces, colors, etc.
Even with these, I’ve got keyhole vision. This is, people read word for word, I read letter for letter. Example, when looking at your nose, I can only see the exact spot on your nose that I’m looking at, not the full nose or face. So, no peripheral vision at all. And no vision whatsoever in the dark/dimlit spaces, or whenever my eyes decide they need a break.
This is as a result of a genetic disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa.
Was This Genetic Eye Defect Triggered At A Later Stage In Your Life Or Did The Degenerative Effect Start From Birth?
Mine manifested quite early. As a toddler, I was always bumping into things and people. At first it was thought that I was just being clumsy. Then whenever it got dark I’d start screaming that I can’t see, which was misinterpreted as a toddler being scared of darkness and thus needing companionship whenever it got dark.
This situation was being swept under the carpet, but when I’d get punished in school for not writing, teachers treating me badly because I said I couldn’t read what was on the board, and the injuries sustained from those collisions, my mom took action.
I started wearing prescription lens at the age of 6. It was thought that it would help with reading. And it did, in very bright light and very bold letters. But by the time I turned 8, it was no longer ‘helpful’ because prescriptions had to be changed very often.
That was about the time the initial diagnosis was made. I was always severely visually impaired, then partially sighted as a teenager, then legally blind in my early twenties.
Being Aware Of The Concept Of Double Invisibility, What Is Life Like As A Nigerian Woman Living With A Disability? Would You Say That There Are Some Challenges You Face That Are Peculiar To These Two Parts Of Your Identity (Woman and PLWD)?
Life as a Nigerian Woman navigating womanhood and being differently abled is many parts frustrating, other parts dicey.
Then giving serious thought to ‘stooping to conquer’ but knowing that the oppression is a loop, in continuum, hence there’s really no other way but to push back.
*Chidinma On Family Life*
Over time I’ve learned that family isn’t always blood.
From the time I was a size 12, till now, I was always bullied into, “losing weight’ because no man wants…” plus you don’t see well, so it’s a double tragedy.
My dad constantly taunts me about my weight not being attractive. To whom though? He categorically stated last year that he wouldn’t pay my fees for postgraduate studies abroad until I lose weight. And he hasn’t stopped lamenting about me wasting his money (debatable because my lifestyle is usually funded by my mom) when my grades went down as a result of rapid visual loss. I still graduated with a 2.2, which is the same grade he graduated with as a fully sighted person.
One time, I told him that the only reason he’s being so vile is because I’m a woman, and I’m visually impaired. He said that’s my business.
And whenever there’s a setback, he mostly ignores me or reminds me that his ‘knowledge in biology’ makes him an expert in my lived experiences.
My younger brothers drive. I can’t drive but I’m certain that if my brothers were differently abled, they’d still have their cars and drivers at their beck and call. More so, irresponsible behavioral tendencies exhibited by them are usually swept under the carpet.
My mom on the other hand would rather gift me a house and a car ‘when I get married or have an identifiable companion’.
She once told me that ‘if I know how I looked, I wouldn’t even turn anyone down’. She’s more vocal in body shaming me, and would (up until 2019) tell me that I don’t see well and the options are limited.
Whose options, I ask?
*Chidinma On Friends*
My circle is super small and mostly virtual.
Sometimes, I have to remind them that I’m legally blind because it only comes to mind when we have to meet physically.
I’ve had some who attributed my blindness to my being irreligious. Others have ‘warned’ that I should tone down my feminism because it’s bad enough being a woman, then a blind one at that, and as such you can’t afford to be a feminist. And then there are those ones who are annoyingly curious, not of me though, but of the ‘idea’ of me. And I can tell. Give it a few hours or days, party scatter.
Generally, my friends may not understand but they don’t pretend to, and they’re very open to learning and asking questions.
*Chidinma On Education*
Secondary school in Nigeria was HELL, because I needed to be held while walking to avoid collision. I also needed help with a lot of things, especially when we had tests that were written on the board. Sitting in front didn’t help. Teachers couldn’t be bothered to understand. Teenagers can be mean. I completed my secondary education at a private school, which was only better because the supervisors in boarding house cared enough to indulge me. I slept in one of the supervisor’s room for the most part, so I could avoid my peers and their constant need to taunt me.
I was in my first year of uni in 2008, a private university in Ibadan.
I was in a private room, and my mom had a toilet and bathroom installed for me so that I didn’t have to leave my room. She cried the first day she dropped me off because she was certain I’d fall countless times on the staircase or other places, as the topography was bleh…
I did fall. Plenty of times.
But after a while, navigating from hostel to lecture halls became less daunting. I’d developed an attitude to get up as many times as I fell. I always carried big handbags which had essentials, including extra clothes and footwear.
I wasn’t using a cane at the time, so even though I understood why people laughed whenever I fell or collided with someone or something, it didn’t make it any less painful. It didn’t also help that I wore the most stylish and colorful spectacles.
That was my life until 2011, when I had to leave for the UK after the law faculty accreditation issue got messy.
Abroad, there were provisions for my peculiarities. But my mental health took a hit and my grades plummeted. Worse still, in April 2014, few weeks to my final exams, I was hit by a car, which led to total loss of vision in both eyes for a while.
This cost me an extra year.
I came back from England in 2015, and because I’d spent too long studying law, the idea of going to the Nigerian Law school did not appeal to me.
Eventually, I got in for Bar 1. I met a lady who made it her business to help me whenever she could, so it wasn’t too bad.
I fell a couple of times, but the one that scarred me the most was falling into a gutter in front of the school at night. My glasses and phone broke, and I had a cast on my leg. And the people around said ‘remove the glass na, you don fall’. Apparently, they thought it was a fashion statement.
That was in Abuja.
Bar 2 was in Lagos. I stopped attending lectures for a while because an uniformed and ill exposed lecturer seized my pack of magnifiers because they were ‘a distraction’, like WTF!
And another stopped lectures because I was asked to come up to the podium to present and I said I couldn’t see. He said I can’t be telling such lies. I was asked to come to the office of the other lecturer to explain how it isthat ‘I cannot see’.
It didn’t help that the humans who sat behind me were more interested in making snide comments. One legit said ‘be cursing yourself, you’ll soon go blind’ because she asked me to pick something she dropped and I told her I couldn’t see.
Student affairs didn’t understand how I managed to have very bright lipstick on but couldn’t see to thumbprint, and needed to be guided to do so. I think it’s the fact that they expected to feel needed, and I thrive on being self reliant.
I wasn’t allowed to go into the exam hall with my magnifiers for my MCQ, where I shaded based on instincts as I couldn’t read the questions. For the main exams, bigger prints were provided for me, and I was given extra time and allowed to use my magnifiers. Still, one invigilator asked me to explain to her ‘how it is that I’m blind’.
I passed on the first attempt, so I’m thankful that I never have to live through that experience again.
Did Your Experience Negatively Affect Your Zeal Towards Education?
It didn’t. I just wouldn’t bother with anything in Nigeria. I’m a lifelong learner, and the academia has its appeal.
In retrospect, I would have had a better experience if I knew what I know now. In applying for further studies, I always ask what the institution is able to offer so as to make my time there less daunting.
*Chidinma On Work*
In Nigeria, I’ve worked at a law firm (NYSC) and at an NGO as an intern. At the law firm, I had colleagues who didn’t mind holding my hand whenever we had to be in court. At the NGO, I was allowed to leave work at 3pm, and most of the work I did was on my pc. Tech’s my comfort zone, hence I work well virtually.
From March till October when my internship ended, work was done virtually. And the people there were awesome.
Sending out my CV and getting called for interviews have never been a problem. I always dread physical interviews because once they see my cane, my skills no longer count. I’ve been searching for purely virtual roles ever since.
When I send an invoice for work done, legal, writing, transcribing, or other virtual roles I engage in, some ask me what I need the money for, after all I’m a single woman. The scum of scums who get to know that I’m differently abled tell me to forgo my fees as charity to them, and they would offer prayers for my healing.
Anyways, I’ve got the best women in my corner. All of the paid roles I’ve had were via referrals by WOMEN.
*Chidinma On Relationships*
I rebel against the idea of commitment because I’ve lived a life (until very recently) where I was told what to do/be/think, how to be/think, right down to whom to even talk to. And I’m usually opposed to this.
It’s almost always amusing when sons of patriarchy start vituperating when I say ‘we’ve come to the end of this ship’.
One legit told me that the only thing I can offer him is sex. I told him it wasn’t even on the table. They never fail to ‘remind’ me that ‘I am doing you a favor, who even wants a blind person’. Then leave already.
I do not entertain any negative energy, so once you give off a certain vibe, I’m out. You talk about my weight or my sight, I block you.
And the ones who also remind me that I’m a woman o, so I should better be nice to them so they can pity me and marry me, SMH!
You’re not even a spec, and I’m the only one doing the choosing here.
My friend said that I don’t hold back with the shock value. Well, I choose violence daily because there’s really no other way to be, in these parts and in these times.
*Chidinma On Safety*
The last time I travelled by air, from Lagos to Enugu and back, I was constantly shouting ‘don’t touch me’. What is it with Nigerian men and touching people, women especially?
Or the ones who grab my cane in the guise of ‘helping me’.
I’m constantly on the defensive, always carrying self defense items, and my cane is multi purpose. Relying on my other senses for sight means that I never miss. It gets tiring.
Let’s not talk about Uber rides.
I Would Really Love To Hear About This.
Many are mad but few are roaming.
*Chidinma On Using Cab-Hailing Services*
Whenever it’s a woman behind the wheels, I’m unbothered. When it’s a man, I clutch my cane with one hand, and the other hand would be inside my cross body bag touching a self defense item. I’ve had to be on the phone all through updating the person on the other end as to the progress of my journey, every step of the way.
One (Uber Driver) asked me ‘if I have a boyfriend’ because ‘he just wan help me since e be say I get this problem and I set’. Another, who claimed to be a pastor, refused to let me out after I’d paid, until I accepted Jesus.
One fella said, ‘you no get problem at all o, see me now dey hustle but you dey live for this kain area. See eeh, forget this thing, all rich people must have problem wey money no fit solve, and this na your own. Imagine now if you dey see well, Wetin go come be your cross’. I came down when I got to my destination and told him, ‘na weere give your mama bele wey she take born you. Uchu!’
Another driver took me through Obalende, Alfred Rewane, Bourdillon, Thompson Road, then Cameron Road, and still had the nerve to drop me outside.
I asked why the long journey? He said, ‘you know say you no dey see, so you no know say na short cut I follow’.
I’d still use Uber any day because it’s more convenient and secure. Bolt on the other hand, I wouldn’t bother with.
What Misconception Can’t You Stand About Legally Blind People That You Would Love To Correct?
In Nigeria, there’s the idea that blind ‘should be completely blind’. There’s no room for in-betweens.
My eyes are open but I can’t see. I use smart gadgets with a lot of tweaks and assistive technology. I’ve got skills, super powers even, which fully sighted persons wouldn’t even think to acquire. That is why I refer to myself as differently abled. It represents the fact that I’m able to do things that fully sighted persons cannot, as I am unable to do many things that they can. Try relying on all your other senses for sight. So please, save the pity for people who need it, we don’t. And you don’t know ‘how I feel’, stick to what you know. Hire and pay people who are differently abled. We adapt very fast to new spaces. And PLEASE, do not touch anyone without asking first.
Thank You For Teaching Me.
And thank you for being open and eager to learn.
Chidinma is currently working on a platform where she documents her experience living with Retinitis Pigmentosa. It will serve as a resource center for visual impairment. She has two on-going projects dedicated to the virtual work she does and Igbo culture.