Twenty-eight-year-old Lagos-based on-air personality, Trust Shawn-Inonse, who lost his sight to glaucoma at age four, tells GODFREY GEORGE how he has been able to lead a great life rather than let the condition define him
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Trust Shawn-Inonse. I am a radio presenter, voice-over expert, communication specialist, writer and editor. I currently work in with a Lagos-based radio station where I serve as the Chief Editor. I will be 28 years old by May 2023. I am from Edo State.
Were you born visually impaired?
No, I wasn’t. I was born fully sighted. I became blind at age four. I cannot see at all. I was diagnosed with what the doctors termed ‘complicated glaucoma’. A medical procedure was done and I was slated for a second one when the doctors said it was not necessary anymore as it would not change anything. I remember when I was much younger that it was really difficult for my parents to cope with this blindness. I have two elder siblings, so things were really difficult. They did virtually everything to make sure I saw again. They sold properties to make sure we could afford the drugs, surgeries and hospital bills. My mum used to cry a lot because she didn’t believe that she would give birth to a child who would end up not seeing, maybe, for the rest of his life. In her words then, she felt it would be so much of a burden to always have to cater to me, carry me around and babysit me for the rest of my life. I remember I would tell her that I’d be fine, and it would make her cry even harder. I have always been confident in my abilities to become great in life. My mum almost never believed that I would be able to take care of myself physically, emotionally and financially.
Was it very easy for you at that young age to accept the reality of your condition?
To be honest, it was very easy for me. It may be because of my age. I was just four years old. After the first surgery, I could see again for a while but then I lost my sight again. It was just a lot of back and forth. So, the doctors simply told my parents to take me to school, stating that I would be fine.
Apart from the failed surgery, did you seek other medical interventions?
My parents were not okay with the doctor’s advice. Although they sent me to school, they still sought second and third opinions concerning the matter. They took me to the Ikeja General Hospital, and I was then referred to a hospital in Kaduna State that was mouthed to be the best eye clinic in the country. We went there and that was where the doctor ‘broke our hearts’ when he told my family to just focus on how to make me lead a good life as I was not likely to see again even if surgeries were done. We didn’t go to any pastor for experimentation. My parents simply taught me how to live my life without too much dependence on others for everything.
What was it like growing up blind?
Growing up for me was not as challenging as I would have thought it would be, to be honest. This is because of my support system. My parents gave me top support. They tried their best to provide all I needed to live well. They did what they could to make sure I was comfortable. My siblings were amazing. I presently have two younger sisters apart from my elder siblings. When they came, it was mixed feelings at first but everything became alright, and they provided tremendous support for me. I would say I have had a good life. Maybe, this was because I am an easygoing person. People love to be around me. I have made the best friends I can think of making.
So far, it has been great. I live the life that any fully-able person will live on the street. I lived a normal life, despite the fact that I cannot see. I played football with even guys who were sighted. There were times when I even scaled over a fence in school with my friends to escape being punished or so. Everyone saw and treated me as a regular kid. My parents spanked me whenever I messed up. They didn’t look at me and say they wouldn’t spank me because I had a disability.
Have there been times when you were denied opportunities on account of your disability?
Of course, yes. It has been really challenging. There are many missed opportunities. I remember there was an engagement I was meant to emcee but they (organisers) were disappointed when they found out that I am blind. Sometimes, we’ll go through a process online and I would be successful until they invited me for a physical chat and found out I cannot see. They would be surprised how I was able to go through the process despite the disability. Some people do not even want to hear me simply because I am blind. To them, whatever I want to say is irrelevant. Some people do not even understand what it means to be blind. They don’t see me as an individual they should talk to. If I could see, maybe, things would have been a bit easier. But it has not always been the case. Sometimes, people give me the opportunity to speak simply because I am blind. They just want to hear what I have to say. In meetings and conferences, people are shocked to see me or hear me talk. But it has been challenging as a Nigerian living in Nigeria. It is harder for us. I just try to be more positive than negative.
What schools did you attend?
My primary school was the Pacelli School for the Blind, Surulere, Lagos. Then, I moved on to Model College, Agbowa, Ikosi, Lagos. Then, I went to the Federal Government College, Ijaniki, Lagos. I then proceeded to the University of Lagos, where I studied Mass Communication.
You work as an on-air personality; how has the experience been?
I work with Lagos Talks (91.3 FM), where I am the Chief Editor. It has been awesome working as a broadcaster and producer.
Before joining the radio station, how easy was it to get a job?
It was an interesting experience. There were situations where I am very qualified for a job but the only reason I am not getting it is because of my disability. At times, people interview me, and once they find out that I am blind, they begin to pity me or start sounding condescending. The job market is hard for persons with disabilities. It was not easy for me at all until I got this job. I had a situation where I was booked to emcee a wedding, and the groom realised last minute after paying me that I was blind. He said I should refund his money and cancel the engagement. He just felt I was not good enough simply because I was blind.
You mentioned that you were trying out new things with your talk show. Would you like to share what these things are?
I am trying to annihilate the stereotypes people have about persons who are visually-impaired. I am trying to tell the world that we can do whatever we want to do. We know that blindness is very serious but I know for sure that with the right environment, we can become very good. We are smart people; we are employable and should be given opportunities. If I can be a Chief Editor of a radio house as a blind man, what can I not do? That is me breaking the stereotype, and I am glad. I want to see a Nigeria where blind people are not boxed into a corner. We have to be given a chance to express ourselves and show that we can do anything.
What has been the worst case of discrimination you have faced living in Nigeria?
Fortunately for me, I don’t rank my living experiences in metrics. I just live and breathe. I don’t think I have had the best or worst situations in my life. I totally believe that life is totally good for people who feel good about life. I try to feel good, so life can be kind to me. I have met some discriminatory situations as tiny as a driver not letting me get into the bus simply because I cannot see, thinking I won’t pay him his fare. There are situations where the drivers deliberately hike the fare so I will say I cannot pay and they will move away and not take me. Sometimes, I just accept to pay the ridiculously inflated fares just to show them that I can afford it. I have seen the good, the bad, the ugly, the best and the worst. I make my lemonade from my lemon.
You lamented on Twitter that living in Nigeria has been a struggle for you, especially being one with a disability. Would you like to share why?
It is terrible being blind and living in Nigeria. Being blind is bad enough but it is disastrous to be blind and live in this country. When I see how things are made easy for people in other parts of the world, I begin to wonder why my own life cannot be like that. The Nigerian environment does not allow PWDs (Persons with Disabilities) to thrive. I am not a fan of giving handouts to PWDs but they should allow us to live life. Nigeria will never make that happen. There are policies but they are never implemented.
Take a look at Lagos roads, for example, where I go every day. I spend about six or seven hours every day just to get to work. The roads are terrible. Look at the pedestrian bridges; people just drop things anyhow, not minding that we have blind people who may use that same bridge. Some of the rails are broken. There is no thought process to ask how PWDs will manage.
Now, there is a new naira note. Did the Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele, think about how blind people will be able to identify currencies? He never gave it a thought. I am sure he will be shocked when he reads this because he never even gave it any thought. PWDs need the power to move on the streets, but how many streets have streetlights? In Lagos, for instance, they have banned motorcycles. Before the ban, I can stop an okada and tell him the particular number to drop me and he will take me there. But now, buses stop at designated bus stops and I will begin to struggle to locate my street and my home. It is terrible. They don’t even consider us at all. Look at the pedestrian bridge at Oshodi, there is no handle. If a blind person who is not familiar with that bridge attempts to climb that bridge, he will fall off, and that will be a tragedy. It is so expensive to live in this country as a PWD, to be honest, and it is frustrating. To get a Braille pad or display or an original talking software is very expensive, what has the government done about this? There is supposed to be a Disability Act but it ends on paper.
How has it been building relationships with friends?
Building relationships with friends have been quite interesting. I have some of the best friends in life. I get to pick my friends. There are people, who, no matter what they are, can never be my friends. I hate pity parties and I don’t let anyone pity me. I am normal. My friends and I joke about my blindness. I make everyone feel comfortable around me. I kill every spirit of entitlement and I do things by myself. I control how I react to situations. I don’t take all the mess that is thrown at me. If I reach out to my friends to do something for me and they say no, I move on. It is not my right to disturb their lives. After all, I say no to other people, too.
Do you sometimes fear that people may take advantage of your disability to defraud or cause you harm?
I don’t have any reason to be afraid. I don’t want to be negative all the rest of my life. I trust people so easily. If you defraud me, it is on you, not on me. If one gives me any reason not to trust them, I am out.
Have you been defrauded before?
Of course, I have, but I don’t let it define how I relate to people. There are situations where people have taken advantage of me, but I believe in humanity first. I choose to live positively.
Are you in a relationship?
Yes, I am. I met her at the University of Lagos. Funnily, we didn’t start dating in UNILAG; we were just friends. We had broken up one time but came back again after we worked on ourselves and we are doing really well. A couple of years later, we started dating. Before then, I had a couple of relationships and ‘situationships’ here and there. I have liked people before and they didn’t like me back simply because I cannot see. I don’t like to dwell on that. If I ask someone out and she says no, I move on. I don’t want anyone to marry me out of pity. I have had situations where people love me but I don’t love them back.
What plans do you have for the future?
I want to be a brand name in the radio and communication space.
If you have the means, will you love to try surgery again just to be sure there is no hope again?
I love the caveat that you put there – if I have the means. Yes, I will try. If I have a lot of money that would not hurt me if it goes to waste, of course, I will go in for surgery and other medical interventions. But I am not willing to sacrifice myself for it. Right now, except the surgery is N50,000 or N100,000, I don’t think I would want to invest in it. I won’t crowd-fund to do it. I have a thriving family and a great life, and that is all that matter. If I become sighted tomorrow, it is just for the pecks. It will just be me experiencing a side of life I wasn’t able to experience for long.