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Taibat Fasakin: Disability almost robbed me of a life full of joy

By Esther Ijewere
06 March 2021   |   3:23 am
One of the most marginalised and overlooked sets of people in the world are persons living with disability; they usually have to advocate for their rights in different sectors.

Taibat Fasakin

One of the most marginalised and overlooked sets of people in the world are persons living with disability; they usually have to advocate for their rights in different sectors. However, the world is not complete without us including them into our plans, policies, advocacy, and projects. Taibat Fasakin is one of those fighting for the inclusion of people living with disability. The CEO of Ability Plus Initiative, Queen Fasakin Taibat Janet (Nee Mohammed) was the former Beauty Queen (Miss Philanthropy Central Africa); she is the first Miss Deaf Nigeria. A leader of repute in many associations and organisations that she had either founded, she has made numerous outstanding contributions to those she had joined. A Women Leader in Abuja Association of the Deaf and Treasurer for South West Association of the Deaf, Queen Janny is the coordinator of the Most Beautiful Deaf Girl in Nigeria (MBDGN). She is also the initiator of the popular Ability Plus TV programme on NTA. An Honourable Member of Nigeria Disability People Parliament, she achieved her dream of working with NTA a couple of years back, and currently works with NTA Headquarters on Disability issues. With her position at NTA, she has produces educational news on TV and Startime called Ability Plus Focus, where challenges faced by Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in Nigeria are addressed. She has done a lot to coach, train and mentor deaf women in many issues pertaining to their development and survival. She shares her inspiring story with Esther Ijewere in this interview.

Growing Up
Like any other child who dreamt of a beautiful future and live for each day to bring goodness, I had the same. But little did I know that life would offer me another dimension and another world that I entirely don’t have any idea of. Growing up was good and beautiful. At an early age, I was already leading in my class as the class captain and each term, I was always first in class. Until one fateful day, when I woke up and couldn’t even stand; my body was hotter than fire. Initially, my sister thought I was faking it until it got so serious.

When my mother arrived from the market, she had to rush me to the hospital where I was admitted and from my minor illness a lot of money was spent; properties were lost. The fact is that my mother could go to any length to lose everything, but not her child. So, she was so determined to make me recover at any cost. After many attempts to get better and no improvement, they had to seek a natural healer.

Then I realised my life had taken another dimension; I couldn’t hear anything again except the vibrating noise in my head. With every day passing in my life, it has become something I have to ignore in my brain, although it was never easy. That’s how my Journey in the deaf world began.

Inspiration Behind Ability Plus Initiative
After I became deaf, I couldn’t relate well with my peer group; I was shunned, ignored and packed to a corner like a pack of cards. The intelligent class captain Janet is now deaf, a nonentity that no one wants to get close to; I was despised, and it hurt.

However, I was determined to live my life to the fullest and I didn’t allow the negative mindset of what the society said about me to distract me from achieving my goal. This neglect and exclusion from the people and society, who should have given me a sense of belonging, pushed me to want to do something to push for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the society, hence the reason I founded Ability Plus Initiative. I want to build a society where persons with disabilities have quality access to basic necessities that will help build their world and fit into the society.

The Most Beautiful Deaf Girl In Nigeria Journey
Seven years ago, I saw Miss Deaf World on Facebook; I also saw Miss Deaf International; what I saw inspired me. I reached out to one of my mentors who told me there was an established Most Beautiful Deaf Girl in Nigeria on ground where I can easily showcase the beauty and culture of deaf women in Nigeria. It was not strong back then as it was still in its embryonic stage. So, I got in touch with the initiator and we got along well. 

In 2016, since there was no fund to organise Miss Deaf Nigeria, I was then selected to represent Miss Deaf World in Czech Republic, 2016. Despite all our efforts, we didn’t get any sponsor; the dream just died like that. But I knew within me that one day, my dream would come to reality. 

In an effort to pursue my dream, as I love fashion and modelling, in 2017, I applied to contest on the platform of Miss Philanthropy Africa Initiative, the first ever beauty pageant that did not discriminate against PWDs. I was enrolled, taught, and groomed on that platform, and I contested with eight other contestants who are not deaf. Lo and behold, my performance, although deaf, won the heart of many and was crowned Miss Philanthropy Central Africa 2017/2018 Region. There and then, my focus and project was to help the less privileged and persons with disabilities. I also wanted to focus by using my title as an advantage to raise money for Most Beautiful Deaf Girl in Nigeria.

I was given a go ahead and the CEO of Most Beautiful Deaf Girl in Nigeria almost lost interest as she had wasted a lot of money on fruitless efforts to build the platform. So, she gave me full authority, and presented all official duties and files to me and in 2018, I became Coordinator for Most Beautiful Deaf Girl in Nigeria.

Society And Its Reception Of Persons Living With Disability  
Persons with disabilities have really tried on part of advocacy and information. For 16 years, we have been advocating for the passage of Disability Bill to into law. Fortunately for us, President Buhari signed the Bill into law in 2019. It’s a whole lot of freedom for us, but sadly with the passage of the law in full force, things are still the same; implementation has not fully taken effect. Nigeria has not fully grabbed this law to better our lives; a lot are still lagging behind, many workplaces like banks, hospitals, and firms are still making the physically challenged —wheelchair users— suffer, many places are not accessible, including hospitals.

Challenges Of Being Advocate For Disability
I’m losing count of those challenges, but the most pressing ones include discrimination arising from or during communication; societal segregation and marginalization are some of the challenges we experience.

Three Women Who Inspire You To Be Better And Why
My dear mother, Mrs Anike Olajumoke Saka, is my Day 1 supporter. She inspired me to work hard. She instilled in me to wear my scar with pride; she was never ashamed of me being her deaf daughter. She is so proud of me and always protects me. My three sisters and Hajia Hamza Jamilah; she is my mentor, my number one push in disability advocacy.

Being A Woman Of Rubies
I have passed through a lot in life and I’ve learnt that the only way to stay down is to look down on oneself; lack belief and confidence and to be narrow-minded. So, for me, I have established a higher purpose —to live to help others, look beyond myself and challenges and focus on the opportunities I can create for others. I consider my abilities are strong enough to a point that I believe deafness is an ability. What if I were not deaf?

How To Support Persons Living With ‘Deafness’
Deafness is a hidden disability and we are the most marginalised group ever, because people do not see our disability. But the sound in our head is what we must cope with daily and you all cannot understand; it is not easy I tell you. Sometimes, people will want to call us, then they throw stones at us; it is very wrong and unacceptable. Meet us and call us or send someone to call us if we are far from you; throwing an object at us is bad.

Also, it’s a bad idea to tell you that I’m deaf and you start raising an eyebrow and say, ‘Sorry.’ Sorry for what? I am not an object of sympathy; there is no need to pity me, I am okay. The best way to support and interact with us is to learn our sign language, even if it’s just A to Z, or simply using the shape of a heart to say, ‘I love you’. Please, do that so you can make them smile. We will feel appreciated and have a sense of belonging. Alternatively, writing will ensure proper information is passed across. Also, try and believe in deaf people; they are intelligent and can do many things except hearing.