Rasak Adekoya

June 2020
A man standing, smiling.

Rasak Adekoya is programme officer at Sightsavers on the disability-inclusive employment programme in Nigeria, part of the Inclusive Futures initiative.

Here, he shares his own career story, tells us about his current role helping people with disabilities to secure good jobs, and what it’s like leading a film shoot as a blind person.

‘Disability’ only occurs when an impairment interacts with a barrier

I understand this well, having myself become blind as an adult. I remember staying indoors for seven to eight months when loneliness was my teacher, but I was determined not to be pitied. So, I found any means possible to overcome the barriers in my way to being productive as a blind person. I have managed to do this successfully, and have built an impressive career in both communications and project management. I now help others do the same.

In my spare time, I’ve authored four books and contributed to numerous policies – nationally and regionally. Prior to joining Sightsavers and the Inclusive Futures initiative, I worked as the public awareness and communications manager for the USAID Strengthening Advocacy for Civil Engagement project in Nigeria. I am a co-founder of the Africa Volunteering Week and 360 Connect Champion – a social enterprise building tech capacity of people with disabilities. This was all made possible by my conviction that there is productivity in disability.

Now I help employers appreciate how potential employees with disabilities can help their business to flourish

The Inclusive Futures formal employment programme offers the expertise to help build the disability-confidence of employers. This means helping to eliminate the barriers job seekers with disabilities encounter during recruitment processes, and making workplaces accessible and friendly to people with disabilities. We are also building the job-readiness of job seekers with disabilities, preparing them to have the relevant competences that employers desire.

I work with job seekers with disabilities, ensuring they’re well equipped for their job hunt with the relevant skills to ensure they secure a good job they can make a career out of.

I also work with organisations that represent disabled people, to encourage private sector companies to become inclusive workplaces, with disability-inclusive policies in place. Organisations have already indicated interest in taking the disability-inclusive audit assessment to ascertain the extent to which they are disability inclusive. As they undergo this assessment, we foresee that more organisations – perhaps their competitors – will be encouraged to engage with the project and open their doors to be a choice employer for people with disabilities.

We also work hard to influence the Nigerian government to see the Nigeria disability act – which calls for five per cent of every workforce to be made up of people with disabilities – be put into practice.

In just three months, 30 per cent of job seekers with disabilities we trained through the programme in Nigeria have already been placed in a job

I am excited about how the mentoring/mentee model (where HR professionals serving as career advisers are mentoring job seekers with disabilities) is successfully impacting their success rates. I am thrilled about the willingness and commitment that’s been so far demonstrated by the private sector, revealing to us that the more conversational and non-confrontational we are, the better we can influence and support them to become disability-confident employers.

I captured people with disabilities’ voices, and testimonies from their employers, on film

From conversations with people involved in the Inclusive Futures initiative, I realised there is need to highlight the success stories of a number of people with disabilities already excelling in good jobs across different sectors, to convince more employers to employ qualified and competent people with disabilities.

Many of my contacts saw me as a rare exception, as a person with a disability excelling at what they do. I wanted to show them this wasn’t the case; that there are many other people with disabilities demonstrating incredible value through their work, regardless of their disabilities.

I cannot bring these people along to every meeting with me. So, I set about shooting a short promotional film capturing their voices, and most especially, testimonies by their employers telling of the value they bring to the organisation.

The objective was to help employers become aware of the value people with disabilities can bring to their organisation; to influence them to make their workplace disability-inclusive and ultimately, be confident to employ job seekers with disabilities.

I found their employers hugely enthusiastic about telling their own journey stories of becoming a disability-inclusive employer, making strong business cases for diversity and inclusion. They were proud that their brands would be associated with such values and qualities when the film would be made public in Nigeria, and globally.

Our film calls on employers to take the disability inclusion audit assessment and encourages them to employ competent people with disabilities.

We’ll be showing it at annual general meetings of huge national and global corporations, in advocacy meetings with government representatives, in training sessions for HR professionals, at careers fairs and employment-related events. Our aim is to influence all these groups, as well as general working-class Nigerians, on the value that people with disabilities can add to the workplace, and the benefits of making all workplaces disability-inclusive.

Leading the film shoot, the cameraman forgot that I am blind

On the third day of the shoot, I recall the cameraman asking me to come over to see his display screen, to check the shot was what I wanted. I laughed, and joked that I’d left my glasses at home. He had forgotten that I am blind. We laughed about it together, and carried on.

It wasn’t just that he had forgotten: he had been fascinated by how often I’d told him to zoom out, fade in, take a close shot… and so on. He couldn’t imagine how I’d got to know such terms, given that I am blind.

I explained to him that I wasn’t born blind. At the age of 17, I was an on-air personality presenting in a TV cable station in Lagos. I learnt a bit about shooting, and gathered some experience within the short time I worked in the TV station, before I moved on to work in radio.

Here’s a short behind the scenes look at how the shoot went.

If people with disabilities cannot look for jobs because of COVID-19, we need to build their skills while they’re at home

During lockdown, I’ve been sharing numerous learning platforms for job seekers to learn from. Felix, a deaf engineer, has taken nine courses. That’s quite amazing to me.

We’re continuing to build awareness and have held a virtual class for the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria, around disability inclusion in the workplace. It was quite an interesting moment as the director of learning gave some powerful feedback, saying that we need to take this forward to the HR community at large.

What we do

We’re helping to make practical changes to the way companies train and hire people with disabilities, and to develop innovative ways to help people find a job.

Our ‘work’ programme

Find out more about the people delivering Inclusive Futures

Our people