My Accessibility Journey
Olu Ogbe was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But supportive colleagues made his journey easier.
This piece was originally published by OZY on October 19, 2017.
I was 24 when I was shot in the head.
It was supposed to be just a routine visit to a friend’s house in Abuja. But I didn’t realize what I had walked into: It turns out that there was a robbery in progress. My phone was taken, and before I could fully comprehend what was happening, I got caught in the crossfire. It was a life-changing event—I lost my sight and sense of smell—and I’m still dealing with the aftermath.
Rebuilding your life from scratch isn’t easy, and 12 years on, I am slowly coming to terms with the events of that fateful night in Nigeria. In the early months, it was family, including my now wife, Maryam, who rallied to my aid and helped me get through some painful moments. I wanted love, not pity, and she understood that.
Shortly after the incident, I moved to the U.K. to study Business Information Technology. As expected, being blind came with a whole host of additional challenges. I remember visiting a rehab center to learn Braille only to discover that since I had lost my vision as an adult, my fingers were not sensitive enough to read Braille very quickly. Learning to accept and manage my disability was a challenge, but one that I’ve been able to tackle – day in and day out. Especially with the rapid evolution of technology that levels the playing field for people with disabilities.
Being the first in anything is hard. You have to define expectations.. On paper, the universities in the U.K. are expected to accommodate disabilities such as mine, but in reality, the administrators didn’t always understand my needs. I often had to educate staff about the kinds of technology I’d need and about how to make things accessible so they could level the playing field. I was especially impressed though that in the university I chose to attend, they took care to ask about my personal life outside of school: how would I navigate the streets, go to church. Nobody ever asked about that before.
After graduation, I worked for a few years at IBM, a job that I loved, before I came to JPMorgan Chase. I’m a business analyst here and consider myself a translator between the technology and business groups. I’m the only blind person in the U.K. offices, but JPMorgan Chase management is especially good at finding ways to solve accessibility issues.
One of the many great things that we have in the firm are colleagues who are really, really willing to help. At Chase, I’ve been blessed with super managers who have been supportive of everything that I do. They are really good at escalating and finding out ways to solve accessibility issues.
A recent example is when Chase instituted hot-desking at my office, which means people rotate the location of their workspace. I couldn’t afford to have such a fluid situation, so I worked it out with management that I would always have a fixed desk close to my team. So now, even if my team hops desks, they do it in the same neighborhood as mine.
My challenges have led me to volunteer in a few groups to help people resolve accessibility issues. One of these is an online support group that helps visually impaired people use technology effectively. I also help students with disabilities figure out a career path and get a job.
I iron my own clothes and can cook a mean dish or two even though one would think that having someone who can’t see or smell in the kitchen would be a disaster. The biggest joys are when everything works seamlessly and I have just another routine day when my disability is not what people notice first.
Interestingly, at Chase my needs have been accommodated so well that most of the projects I work on nobody even knows I’m blind. I find it funny that a lot of people bump into me in the firm, when I’m walking around with my stick, and when I introduce myself they go, “Oh, you’re Olu and oh my god, I didn’t know you’re blind!”
My advice to managers: Be like my managers at Chase. Support the person you’re trying to accommodate. If an individual comes to you with certain challenges, be ready to listen, work with that person and be patient in finding a solution. My manager at JPMorgan Chase has an impressive way of leveraging my strengths into the workplace. I’m very risk-averse and plan detailed scenarios even before I leave home. I love that she has applied that same strategy to map situations at work. It has really been a joy to work with my colleagues and be a vital part of the team.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that “for all educational attainment groups, jobless rates for persons with a disability were higher than those for persons without a disability.” It doesn’t have to be this way. The modern workplace with technology at its fingertips is capable of making work accessible to everyone. As my example with JPMorgan Chase illustrates, all it takes is a team that understands that bringing the best talent to the table might not always be a well-worn path.
Learn more about JPMorgan Chase's commitment to providing consistent standards and processes to better accommodate employees with disabilities.