My success should motivate students who have given up –Aanuoluwapo Omoleye, Deaf UI first-class graduate 22-year-old Aanuoluwapo Omoleye, who went deaf at the age of six, tells ALEXANDER OKERE how she got first-class honours at the University of Ibadan in Oyo State despite failing at the first hurdle.
“You recently graduated from the University of Ibadan. What were your course of study and the class of your final result?
Yes, I did. I majored in Special Education and minored in Economics. I graduated with first class honours.”
“At 200 Level, my CGPA went up to first class and that was when I knew I would most likely graduate with it. All I needed to do was to maintain it. I was able to maintain it for three semesters. The second semester of 300 Level came and I dropped from first class with 0.2. I needed As in all my courses, including my project, to graduate with first class. To achieve that, I took two extra courses to make up in case I didn’t meet up with having straight As in all the courses. It was a risk. Well, I got As in 90 per cent of my courses and the rest, they say, is history (laughs).”
“I failed Mathematical Economics (part one). I was heartbroken and shed tears in public. I became scared because there were more difficult courses to handle. However, I put in more effort with the consistent push from my level adviser and close friends. I also had an amazing friend who would guide me in everything because as a deaf person, understanding the lecturers without constant interpretation was low. One session later, I took that course again (alongside others) and passed.”
“It was reported that you were also the best graduating student in your department. What do these achievements really mean to you?
It means I have access to a wide range of opportunities in different aspects and that students who are on the verge of giving up now have something to look up to and find some inspiration. It shows that beyond the academic line, it is not impossible to do extremely well as an individual who is ‘different’.”
How did you arrive at Special Education as a course of study?
It was unplanned. I applied to study Economics but the Post-University Tertiary Matriculation Examination cut-off point was high. It was 70 per cent. I was a few points away from meeting it, so I didn’t make the first admission list. I was given a range of over 30 courses to choose from and because I was very familiar with Special Education, I chose it without thinking and came to love it.
“What was your aspiration as a child?
Like most other children at that time, I wanted to be a medical doctor. I grew up with that ambition until my Senior Secondary School 1 when I was told by the teachers at the special school that it was not possible for me to be in science class. I was told that it was impossible for me to be a doctor too. To them, there were no deaf doctors and there would never be.
I was quite stubborn and insisted on what I wanted. I even bought science textbooks. It got to a point where my parents had to visit the school. Unfortunately, they were convinced and I was moved to commercial class. I spent days sulking but then, I had no choice but to move on. There was a serious lack of awareness. It was when I got into the University of Ibadan that I started to find out truths I never knew before. In short, my eyes opened but it was too late.
At first, I did. But now, I don’t regret it anymore because I believe there is a reason for everything and I came to love what I studied. Anybody can be whatever they want to be. It is very common for deaf students to be discouraged from studying science courses and this is very unfair and discriminatory. There are many successful career persons in the deaf community and students should be encouraged to look up to them.
It does not seem common for persons with disabilities to graduate with first class honours. What was your recipe for success?
I’d say I studied smartly. I didn’t cram but read to understand (except formulas). There was nothing special about what I did. I ensured I covered the topics taken and if I didn’t understand, I’d check ‘Chief Mrs’ Google or ask some of my knowledgeable course mates. I ensured I covered most of the lectures during the period of continuous assessment. It made studying for exams easier. I’d go over the topics again and again and also set mock tests for myself, which I marked. I had issues with procrastination but I was able to do fine despite the challenge.
What were the things you had to sacrifice to meet your target?
I have a lot of goals. I simply aspire that my career is also ‘first class’ like my grades and be an inspiration to many.
Children do all sorts of things and I was not any different. I was playing in the house one morning when I saw some beads in the drawer. I imagined that one of the beads would fit perfectly into any of my orifices. I first inserted one of the beads in my nose but sneezed it out immediately. Then, I tried inserting it in my left ear canal and boom, it got stuck. I tried to remove it myself by every means possible – by patting, using cotton buds, broomsticks, water, etc – but all proved abortive. Later that evening, my parents came back from work and I reported to mum that ‘something’ was in my ear.“
“That was the beginning of it all. My family tried to remove the bead that had got into my left ear but they could not. Even the private clinic I was taken to had to refer me to the teaching hospital where I was scheduled to have it removed on a Wednesday. I was given anesthesia and when I woke up, I became extremely sick and my left ear was bleeding.
Apparently, an error in the removal procedure had perforated my left eardrum and got it damaged. I was extremely ill for many days and had lost my sense of balance. However, I still had my hearing for the first two days.”
“How did the problem affect your ability to hear?
Disaster struck when I woke up in the morning to realise I couldn’t hear anything in both ears. It felt like a joke until my mum screamed and ran out of the house. We went back to the hospital and were given different instructions. I lost hearing in both ears instead of one. When I got better, I went back to the regular school I was attending before later starting a new life at a special school for the deaf. I still very much remember my last day at school and how my classmates and my nun-teacher sang. I left in Primary 3.”
“Can you describe the difficulties you faced in interacting with kids in your neighbourhood as a child?
Because I could talk, I didn’t really face difficulties, apart from finding it hard to keep up with childhood gist with the neighbourhood kids.
How did your parents and siblings provide support during that period?
My family was and is still great. My mum ensured I was always doing fine socially, educationally, and morally. My siblings were protective and very patient with all the tantrums I almost always threw. Dad bought me my first mobile phone in Primary 6 to ease communication and learning. I was enrolled in a special school which I attended for nine years (from Primary 4 till SSS 3)”
“What forms of discrimination have you faced and how did you handle them?
I have faced numerous forms of discrimination, both directly and indirectly. I won’t be able to list them all in just one post. My first ever share of discrimination was when some of the teachers at the special school I attended told me it was impossible to study Medicine and that it was only for those that can hear. I was placed in a commercial class like every other deaf student. I am glad things have changed now and I recently visited the school to tell the students that they could be whatever they wanted to be.
Also, there was a particular lecturer that would not allow me to participate in any class discussion. I felt like a ghost because I would always be ignored – I couldn’t ask or answer a question. His attention only went to hearing students until I complained about it and he changed.
For academic work, it was the shortage of sign language interpreters. The University of Ibadan needs to do better by employing more sign language interpreters to aid inclusion. Many times, I would attend classes without any interpreter and would just stare blankly as the lecturers moved their lips. Impromptu tests were somehow (strange). I have been sent out of classes during impromptu tests on some occasions because the lecturers thought I was trying to copy answers not knowing that I was only trying to copy the test questions. In the social life aspect, it is still the same thing –communication and information.“
“How did you manage them?
I ensured I put in extra work and also made friends and acquaintances who gave me the information I needed. With this, I didn’t face too many difficulties and I had a good time as a student leader as well.
Would you say there have been times when anyone cheated you or tried to take advantage of your condition?
If they did, then I am still not aware. I am quite alert, so I discover quickly if anyone wants to cheat me at any time.”
“You emphasised the inability of some people to communicate with you. What is the best way to interact with a person with hearing impairment?
If the person understands sign language, then one should learn sign language, because, in the process of doing that, every other thing flows. If the person does not understand sign language, one should learn how to communicate with the person in their preferred way. It could be through speech, gestures, or writing. Empathise, don’t sympathise, and most importantly, don’t try to cast out the ‘evil spirit of deafness’ unless they (the deaf) specifically requested it.”
“What has your condition taught you about life?
Being different doesn’t mean being lesser. Life only happens and it goes on. People see things differently and it is on you to live for yourself and be at your best.
No. I have never suffered any rejection. It is always the other way round. I have trust issues and I guess that’s why I am still single (laughs).”