Lady, 23, becomes UK’s first blind black lawyer
A young woman identified as Jessikah Inaba has become Britain’s first blind, black female lawyer.
The 23-year-old graduated from an unnamed university in London after completing her entire course in Braille and also thanks her friends as well as her tutors for helping fill in the gaps.
Jess is completely blind and had to use braille throughout her time at London Bloomsbury Law School.
She started her accelerated law degree in September 2017 before starting a master’s degree two years later alongside professional training.
Braille can be read on a special screen which usually gives one line at a time, or from specially printed books. She said it took seven months for her university to get one of her two key study texts to read on her computer, and five months for the other.
And, because of the pictures and tables in the books, her braille display missed huge chunks of material, she said.
She says she completed most of her education by making her own Braille materials from her class notes or from friends reading books to her.
Of her achievement, Jess said: “It was crazy – I still can’t believe I did it.” One day I will wake up and realize how amazing this is.
“It was hard and I often thought about giving up, but my supportive family gave me courage and strength.
“I always believed in myself from the start – there’s nothing in me that means it’s not possible.
“I know I can do this job very well, and the more people like me who go through training, the easier it will become.
“It’s a very good feeling, I know I give hope to others in similar situations to mine. There is a triple-glazed glass ceiling.
“I’m not the most common gender or color, and I have a disability, but by pushing through, I ease the burden on the next person like me.”
She added that the university had arranged tutoring to support her when the lack of books held her back.
Jess said: “I spent more time preparing my own learning materials than studying.
“I was hospitalized because I kept fainting in October 2019 because I had been sleeping about three hours a night for two years.
“I sometimes had 45 minutes a day to eat, but often I ate in front of my computer.
“The university had other visually impaired people who used text-to-speech, but I just can’t work like that.
“I need to physically read it for myself or I can’t remember. Everyone is different and has a different workaround for various situations.
“A lot of registered blind people have some vision, so they can sometimes use large print, or some blind people do well just by listening to the text.
“Braille is expensive to produce because it requires a lot of special software and equipment.”
In court, Jess uses a tiny electronic machine with a braille keyboard that has a key for each dot and a small screen where symbols appear. This means she can keep her ears free to listen and can easily read and edit using just her hands.
Jess is blind due to an eye condition called bilateral microphthalmia, where babies are born with eyes that are smaller than usual.
She now plans to apply for a pupillage – where newly graduated lawyers get their first practice placement – when applications open in January.
She said: ‘I’m very proud, but I wish everything had gone well.
“I feel like due to disabled access issues, my results don’t accurately reflect my abilities.
“I think as a black person, I have to work 10 times harder than other people just to be accepted by society.
“Before I can see a client, I have to prove that I am a lawyer and justify my need for my specialized equipment.
“If I was an older white guy who could see my professional life, it would be so much easier.
“I have to accept that I may never be competing on a level playing field – it’s tough.
“People from minority groups who train in this will face discrimination, hopefully it will get easier over time.
“If this happens, don’t be too shocked, just keep following your dreams – you will get there.”
The University of Law said: “Jess is the first blind black student to study at the University of Law.
“As a university, we were able to provide additional support to ensure that Jess was able to pass the courses.
“Procuring braille materials has been a challenge, but we were delighted to finally be able to supply them.
“We are extremely proud of Jess’ accomplishments and know she will be an inspiration to all students, showing that you can succeed in the face of physical challenges.”
“We wish him the best in his future career.”
Sam Mercer, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at the Bar Council, said: “Congratulations to Jessikah on joining the bar.
“The Bar celebrates diversity in order to create a profession representative of all and for all.
“Role role models, like Jessikah, within the profession have an important role to play in helping us break down barriers at the bar and encourage a more diverse profession.”