A bend in the road is not the end of the road, unless you fail to make the turnHelen Keller

Olawale Alade is a Nigerian Deaf nurse based in the United Kingdom. Ogheneruemu Alexander got him talking on his peculiar odyssey with deafness. The mental health practitioner represents the school of thought that examines living with disability from a philosophical perspective.Wale’s narrative of trumping disability reinforces the philosophy that in life, man need not be at the mercy of circumstances – rather he has a measure of power to create his circumstances.

Someone asks, but how can man create his circumstances? The right answers to the following questions gleaned from the opening quote above hold the key.

What do you do when you hit the dead-end?

How do you respond when you meet a road block?

When you reach a bend in the road, what thoughts come to your mind?

At that point, you are presented with three options.

You can choose to stop and just stay there.

You can decide to turn around and go back.

Or you can choose to adapt and make it work.

In that opening quote, Keller, a veteran champion of the disability experience challenges fellow travelers on same journey to stay in it. She holds out an encouragement to adapt and not see disability as the end. Here, you find a philosophical charge to see barriers posed by disability as opportunities to adapt, improvise and be more creative on the journey. And who better embodies this stoic spirit than the tall, light complexioned deaf nurse whose story we bring our readers in this 10th edition of the Disability Champions Series. Indeed, for Wale, Keller’s words would prove the shining lodestar that helped navigate his course through the bend in the road – guiding him to his rendezvous with destiny when an abrupt disability brought an end to a dream career in the world of football.


Long before the unexpected disability that shattered his ambitions, young Wale never stopped dreaming of becoming a great footballer. Football was a big part of his life. He lived and breathed the game. Then suddenly, meningitis strikes – permanently robbing him of hearing and compromising his balance/gait – a mechanism so critical to playing the game. Suddenly, a dream football career was over even before it starts. It was like the end of the world. Then gradually, somewhere down the road, new people, new experiences, new knowledge and new philosophical perspectives spring up:

“Tragedy can become strategy for redirection”,

“Instead of football, maybe my purpose lies elsewhere”,

“When one door closes, another always opens”.

That was the universe whispering its law of “giving and receiving” in a harsh lesson bearing one message: “sometimes, you need to give up something in order to receive another”, “give up this dream, get another”.

Yet, it takes developing some tinge of spirituality and a philosophical cast of mind to perceive the message. Thankfully, Wale did.


Born at Ita-faaji, Lagos Island on the 6th of March 1966, Olawale Alade is the first of seven children – three males and four females.

I had an awesome childhood, he recalls:

“Like most kids my age, I developed a strong interest in football right from my primary school days. This continued through secondary school. Whilst in my final year in secondary school, I suffered an illness that would rob me of my hearing.

Owing to ignorance and a lack of enlightened information, this tragic incident stalled my academic trajectory for some five years. When by Providence I discovered the Federal College of Education, (Special) Oyo, my education path was resurrected. I proceeded to the University of Ilorin for my first degree. I had my second degree at Kingston University, Surrey, United Kingdom”.

Wale is presently a Mental Health Nurse in the UK where he works with Deaf Adults suffering from varying degrees of mental health challenges. As a Deputy Manager on the Ward, he combines managerial responsibilities with clinical work. ‘It is a work I enjoy doing’, the spritely nurse says.


That Friday night, he went to bed hale as any normal adolescent his age. A slow, soulful music lulled him to sleep. He recalls holding vivid imageries of how he would play in the next day’s football match. It was a game he wanted to win like no other. Wale was 16 then, a healthy young man with a fully functional auditory faculty. Yes, life was good!

Unbeknownst to him however, a tragic bend lay just ahead. Saturday morning brought it!


“I woke up the following day, earlier than expected. I was immediately occupied with plans for the day .However, the moment I stepped out, I sensed a strangeness in my being that instinctively spelt trouble. At first I shrugged it off as fatigue from my long night up studying. However, quite unexpectedly, I started vomiting. A dizzying feeling swept over me and my condition rapidly deteriorated in the moments following.  I passed out temporarily and was asleep almost all day. By Sunday morning, it was clear there was more to this sudden illness initially mistaken for malaria. My mobility was compromised and I had to be piggybacked to the nearest hospital. There at the hospital, the first realizations of compromised hearing dawned. From my seat a few meters away, I watched my dad talk with the doctor but couldn’t make out a word of the conversation. However, at the time, I was unable to determine the issue with my hearing or arrive at a conclusion that I was deaf in both ears. I thought the illness must have temporarily disabled my hearing and that all would be back to normal when I fully recover.  It was all I could hope for in the circumstance”.


 Yes, hope is a good thing to claw unto when you hit the lows. Yet it so happens that sometimes, hope gets dashed. That’s when “all the king’s men and all the king’s horses are unable to put Humpty Dumpty together again…

A bend in the road had been reached.

An otherwise promising lad had suddenly become profoundly deaf in both ears! It was at the peak of preparation for Senior School Certificate Examinations. A tragic timing!

How did Wale react?

He remembers those moments in the typical “how”, “why”, “what”, and “who” posers:

Why did I suffer this illness?

Why did it happen to me?

Why did it happen at the exact time it did?

How will I now cope with life after school?

What will be my future direction?

Who could I turn to for support?

Unable to find clear answers to the questions, depression, loneliness, and suicidal ideas invaded Wale’s space. He would go round this vicious cycle for the next five years for lack of enlightened information about deafness. It was the usual superstitious interpretations hinting at witchcraft and diabolical manipulations.


The initial challenge was coming to terms that a disability has occurred. For this young man who went to bed one night bubbling with ambition and vigor only to wake up the next day reduced to a world of silence, adapting was going to be an uphill task. Wale narrates those years thus:

I returned to school following discharge from hospital. That was a critical moment for me as I was just rounding up my final year at school, with the WASC (as it was known then) exams just a matter of days away. I received no consideration from the school authorities, no special provision. Furthermore, no effort was made to provide any guidance or support I might need in making adjustments. This led to my spending the next 5 years at home as everyone around me concluded there was no hope. I wanted to sit for university entrance examinations but all I heard were constant discouraging voices saying: “You are deaf, where in the world did you hear of a deaf person attending university? So lost in the throes of ignorance was that society that none could imagine a deaf person becoming something in life.

Note: [This was prior to the young man’s discovery of Keller – alongside other enlightened souls and experiences that would point him to the light – coaxing him to take the turn needed to arrive at his place with destiny]

In the meantime, by a streak of serendipity, Wale discovered the art of reading – a strong support system during those years of isolation. “The only thing that interested me then was reading. I started to read voraciously”, he remembers.

NUGGET: Too often, we are limited, not by our circumstances, nor by our disabilities, but by our level of enlightenment, our experiences, and our exposure. Let’s seek more light.


Family helped too – the immediate and extended. Family formed a strong support to fall back on – albeit, limited by ignorance on the enlightened course of action to take. Wale still cherishes memories of aunties and cousins who went above and beyond to make him feel at home:

“My cousins and aunties showed remarkable understanding and care”. We went to the farm together, and I participated in the farm work. Then there were friends who stuck by and kept him going when deafness made life tough.

He would however single out a mother and her love for special tribute:

Mothers will always be mothers. My mother was a notch above many. She took up the battle. This woman, who had no education was single mindedly focused on ensuring her son could once again “hear” the world around him and participate meaningfully in family and social life. Any other consideration was secondary to this quest”.

This quest would see her attempt every possible avenue within limits of her knowledge and the meager family means to see her son restored. Recurrent schedules with traditional healers, regular attendances at healing crusades, lengthy prayer meetings, brought no positive results. Instead, the young man had his dignity and esteem battered.

A supposed prayer meeting at a catholic church, turned physical assault was the last straw.

“I’d had enough of these charlatans masquerading as solution providers. From then on, he desired to better his life and live it to the fullest regardless of deafness. That desire, and the resultant determined mindset triggered a chain of positive happenings for the young man.

Napoleon Hill, in “Think and Grow Rich” wrote: The starting point of all achievement is Desire

NUGGET: A desire, fervently held and constantly maintained, has power to cause the universe to move in its direction.

You’ve got to master a burning desire to live a full life regardless of what disability ails you.


Not long after that definitive humiliation in the hand of charlatans, a cousin of Wale’s who, unknown to him had been informed of his plight decided to help. She met with the manager at her place of work to discuss Wale’s situation. This man, a wheelchair user offered to meet Wale. An appointment was scheduled. For this young man hitherto caught in a rut, this was the miraculous intervention he’d eagerly anticipated. He recalls:

“I longed to meet someone with some understanding of disability issues. I was persuaded that meeting people with broader world views – away from what I had previously encountered would do a whole lot of good. This conviction gave the meeting a whole new dimension. I felt like I was investing my whole future on the outcome of this meeting. I craved guidance. After the meeting, I took to heart the suggestions offered, determined to make the best of my situation. I began typing and computing classes at the Spinal Cord Injuries Association of Nigeria (SCIAN), Maryland, Lagos. It was far from where I wanted to be, but I believed the skills acquired would lead to higher and nobler things.

MORE LIGHTOf Associations, Shared Experiences, And Language

At the SCIAN Center, Wale made good progress. Majority of the people there were inpatients of the orthopaedic hospital, Igbobi. They had one form of disability or the other. Vital friendships were formed. Meeting people who shared their own stories with disabilities helped redefine the young man’s perspectives on the subject of disability. Before long, Wale considered himself lucky. He understood he was not alone in the odyssey of living with disability.

Surround yourself with people who only lift you higher – Oprah Winfrey

A life changing event took place in early 1987. An English lady, a speech therapist and expert in rehabilitation of persons with disabilities visited the centre. Wale was introduced to her as the one Deaf person there. On realizing that the young man had no knowledge of sign language, she opted to communicate with him by writing. She however gave clear instructions that no effort be spared in connecting him with organizations working involved with Deaf people. Looking back on that encounter, Wale attributes it to Providence. He narrates:

This intervention, coming at this point, was nothing short of a God sent help. Letters were written and sent out.Two weeks later, I was at the office of Chief Dawodu, chairman, Society for the Care of the Deaf. The Chief, a retired school administrator, had worked for many years with professionals involved in the education of Deaf people. For valid reasons, he objected to communicate with me by writing. This first meeting with the Chief, though a bit disappointing, marked my first concrete steps towards rehabilitation and redemption. The man insisted I must learn to communicate like other Deaf people. He referred me to the Deaf Unit the Federal Technical College, Yaba.

People inspire you or they drain you – pick them wisely. Hans F. Hansen


“The sight of young boys and girls, many of them my mate – laughing, grimacing and communicating with each other using hand movements transported my thoughts to another realm. I was astounded at this sight of young Deaf persons, attending school, conversing without speech and finding happiness in themselves and the world around. It was an exhilarating sight! Welcome to the world of sign language”.

With those words, Wale captures the gush of emotions on that first visit to the Deaf unit (Federal Technical College, Yaba). That was his first real encounter with the missing organic link for communication within the deaf world. At that time though, he didn’t realize the far reaching impact this seemingly strange language would bear on his trajectory. Years later, after experiencing the full transformative powers of this language, he would counsel upcoming generations of deaf persons: “learn sign language, it will doors of opportunity for you”.

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world – Ludwig Wittgenstein

Indeed, for Wale, acquiring sign language was the game-changer that pushed the limits imposed on his world by deafness. This language would thereafter trigger the series of connections, associations and discoveries that steadily led him to his date with destiny. Let’s hear from the horse’s mouth:

”I attended the Deaf church at Montgomery Road, every Sunday to improve my sign language skills. I also attended Deaf Association meetings. I was a keen observer of the varying signing skills of Deaf people. These acquired skills were to later prove handy. At the Federal College of Education, I eased into the social and academic life after a difficult start.  The presence of sign language interpreters during lectures, the teaching of Sign Language as a mandatory course in the first year, the encounters with colleagues with varying degrees of deafness – these made socialization on campus one of my most enriching experiences since deafness struck. By my final year in college, confidence was restored, social life had taken a 360 degree turn, and I had entered refreshing social contracts with new friends, acquaintances and associates. My expanding network of friends and contacts would fire in me to a greater zeal and a belief that possibility was within reach”

From then on, there was no turning back!

NUGGET: For each bend in the road brought about by a disability, there are turns to be made. For the disability of deafness, the turn marked “sign language” is a critical.


On the subject of Persons with disabilities being victims of discrimination, Wale tries to maintain a dispassionate slant. Asked to share his coping strategies when he experiences discrimination, he veers off from an uncommon angle:

“It’s difficult to say with any degree of certainty that I have had a direct discriminatory experience. I indulge in philosophical reflection when things don’t work out as I wanted. I tried to analyze what has happened and how I have presented myself in that situation. However, this should not be misconstrued to mean I am a “discrimination denier”.

People with disability experience discrimination at various levels and in different forms.

I have had instances where people’s lack of understanding of my disability (deafness) negatively influenced their behavior toward me. In such cases, I am assertive of my rights where there is a breach. I believe in respectful resistance. I champion my own rights. I have always been an advocate of positive self-worth. I am a person who tries to look at the brighter side in every situation. With this attitude, I rarely feel discriminated against.

At this point, Wale shares his favorite quote: “Do to others as you want them to do to you

NUGGET: Don’t just conclude it is discrimination, begin with introspection

When prodded to talk about hurtful experiences, this champion who chooses to see the sunny side of life is careful not link such with his disability. Rather, he ties it to matters of the heart:

The few hurtful experiences I have had can be narrowed down to disappointments from those I have loved with all my heart. Life has taught me useful lessons.”


Is there a humorous side to being deaf – and by extension, living with disability? The answer to that question depends on how developed the sense of humor is. The ability to get a good laugh from one’s disability is a handy survival skill. Wale recalls an encounter to boot:

“There is one encounter I cannot forget easily. At that time, I had no understanding of sign language. I and some friends were negotiating our way home after an outing. As we chattered, I could pick a few words by lip reading. We had to take a bus from Yaba to Ojuelegba and one of these friends made to explain to me. Tried as I did to read his lips, I missed the message. This friend understood my struggle. A brief pause followed during which he tried to gather his thoughts. In a flash of genius, he pointed his index finger to his eyes (oju) and whipped a “flogging” motion (elegba). I immediately made the connection. He meant “ojuelegba”. Uproarious laughter ensued. That act of brilliance was both insightful and hilarious. I never forgot that moment.”


When we asked: How has your disability refined and built character in you? Wale takes a deft philosophical turn – capturing the essence of his success story in a manner that leaves a blueprint for others:

The initial challenge was coming to terms a disability had occurred. Next, is gaining an understanding that life has presented one with an opportunity to make a difference, and that in disability is hidden ability. It is always difficult to perceive those opportunities when the mind is obsessed with the limitations subconsciously imposed by disability. The moment these blurry lines clear and one embraces the disability with a full understanding that the power to change, to influence outcomes, and to impact one’s world lies in one’s hand, then half the battle is won.

In my own situation, and prior to the onset of deafness I was not studious. I consider myself a fanatical sports person. At one point, I see myself a great footballer.

The illness changed all that. I did not only lose my hearing. I also lost muscle strength when I was bedridden for weeks. I had to learn to walk again and by the time I regained strength, my gait suffered. I could no longer play football. It was at this period that I discovered a love for reading.

I decided that if I can redouble my attention to my studies, I can succeed in anything. I became an avid reader, and, at same time, started writing short poems and articles. In a nutshell, one can conclude that deafness refocused my attention from the world of sports I had initially set my mind on”.


A bend in the road is not the end of the road, unless you fail to make a turn – Helen Keller

Wale has a concise message of enlightenment for a society that discriminates against Person with disabilities:

People living with disabilities are not a burden on society and should not be treated like they are a second thought. Society needs create safeguards at all levels. There should be inclusion; there should also be clear demonstration of intent to cater to the needs of people with disabilities. The care society provides can take different forms.

The overall goal should be supporting these people to live a life of dignity. These are the basics”.


“I would refrain from prescribing a fit for all advice. This comes from my conviction that there is diversity in abilities, motivation and available resources. Whatever perspective an individual espouses will either accelerate or militate against any determination to succeed. The most important of all however, is the conscious cultivation of positive self-esteem.

The individual person with disability should strive to be the best version of herself.

Be focused and single minded about what you want to achieve.

In whatever station of life the individual with disability finds himself, he/she should strive to be honest, hardworking and consistent.

The Disability Champions Series, a collaborative project with Madam Joy Bolarin, Executive Director, Jibore Foundation, is anchored by Ogheneruemu Alexander (Disability issues blogger).

Special acknowledgement to T.O.L.A Foundation for constant back up supports.

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