Diana Yatich lost her eyesight when she was just five years old after contracting malaria. She has been blind for most of her life and she has had to depend on assistive devices to make life easier. Diana describes herself as fun-loving and outspoken. She enjoys reading, going out with friends and travelling. I spoke to her about her journey and how a job at Safaricom changed her life.
What is your name and what do you do at Safaricom?
My name is Diana Yatich and I am an HR operations officer. I deal with service delivery and employee relations; all this basically falls into the everyday needs of an employee, performance, grievance management and discipline.
Describe your disability and its impact on your life.
I am totally blind. I cannot see anything at all. The fact that I cannot see means that I always have to use a stick to get around, sometimes I also need people to hold my hand for guidance. I wouldn’t say being blind affects me negatively per se, because I have been blind since I was five. So, I have had plenty of time to adjust and learn how to live with this reality and do as much as I can by myself.
What challenges do you face?
Being dependent on people or assistive devices to do certain things can be a real challenge. You can try as much as you can to be independent but there are particular aspects that will always require you to seek assistance.
People or devices you depend on might not always be reliable so that poses a challenge sometimes. For instance, at work, I use a screen reading software that helps me type and read emails like everybody else but sometimes I receive documents the software is not able to read for some reason and that can be quite difficult.
Do you use this software for social media as well?
Yes, I have a talking device both on my laptop and on my phone, this helps me to manage my social media because the software basically reads out whatever is on the screen. With such devices, I can enjoy Twitter and Facebook. With Instagram, I need assistance because it’s mostly visual and the device can’t really help with that. I am therefore rarely on Insta, but my sisters always want me to be a part of it, so they take pictures of me and post them.
Are there perks of not being able to see?
Are there perks really? Well, my friends say that I am lucky because I can’t see what is going on around me, that I am shielded from things that could’ve possibly affected me if I saw them. If you ask me, I don’t think about it that way, I don’t see being blind as either an advantage or a disadvantage. I feel like if you are in a situation you cannot change, your role is not to focus on what you can or can’t do, it is to do the best you can with what you have. I can’t say that I have an advantage because if I was given an option to see I would gladly take it.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not at work?
I love reading books and I also try to write sometimes though lately, I haven’t been in a position to write as much as I would like to. When the mood is right, I enjoy writing stories and articles, mostly for my personal consumption or for people close to me. I love going out, dancing, hanging out with my friends, travelling; just regular things. When I was in campus, I used to live by myself in a single room. I cleaned and tried to be as independent as possible, so I really enjoyed cooking as well. Now that I live with my sisters who like cooking more than I do, I don’t cook as much anymore.
What course did you take in University?
I took a course in literature and media studies. It’s actually not related to the job I do at Safaricom but I later did a higher diploma in HR and I am currently taking my CHRP so I am now studying in my field of work.
Did you get employed immediately after graduating from campus?
Before joining Safaricom, I had never really gotten a job that was permanent and formal. Most of the jobs I used to do were either on a temporary basis or volunteering. I remember volunteering at the Hope for the Blind Centre where my work was to train individuals who had lost their eyesight later on in life to use the braille machines, motivate and show them that blindness isn’t the end of life.
I worked at Moi University where I assisted the Disability Mainstreaming Committee where I would translate braille to written form. Visually impaired students would write in braille and afterwards, I would translate their work into written form. It was not an everyday job; I was just being called to work when things got too swamped. I decided I needed to look for a permanent job if I wanted to be independent.
How was life like for you, being blind and unemployed?
To be blind and broke can be quite challenging because disability is an expensive lifestyle. For you to have the devices you need to get independence, you require to have some sort of income; for stuff like the phone and the screen reading software you need money to buy them.
Without a job that pays, you can’t really say that you are independent. I was living with my parents, I wanted to feel useful and contribute but without any means of income, I felt like the child who was never going to leave home. I remember crying almost every night because I was basically just sitting there waiting to be fed, it was very stressful, and I wanted to do something with my life.
Funny enough, I knew people in government and other positions of influence who could help me find employment but because I was blind, they couldn’t see how exactly I was going to be productive. This is despite me being a graduate.
My friends whom I went to school with are actually the people who acknowledge my abilities and the things that I am capable of. One of my friends from high school had been trying to reach me on Facebook but I was offline at the time because I felt like I was underachieving compared to my friends who were making significant strides in their lives. I decided to call her and when she asked how I was doing I was very honest with her about how I was struggling with unemployment. I told her I was stressed and was willing to do any job even if it only paid Ksh. 20,000.
I had actually gotten a marketing job for the Kenyan Union for the blind that was paying Ksh. 18,000. The job was in Nairobi and I also had to pay a guide because the job needed me to travel from one county to the other. The math didn’t make sense because the money wasn’t going to be enough.
How did you come to apply for a job at Safaricom?
My friend asked me if I had considered applying for a job in Safaricom. To be honest, it had never crossed my mind that I would ever work at Safaricom, I just thought I would never get a job there because it was such a big company. If the small District office in my area couldn’t accept me, how would a telecommunications giant accept me. Never in my wildest dreams had I seen myself as an employee there.
She told me to think about applying there because they employed people with disabilities which took me by surprise probably because I didn’t know anyone who worked for Safaricom. So, I logged into the career portal and sent my CV. At the time I sent my CV, they were only picking people with disabilities who could work as customer service executives. I figured the job was just about sitting and picking calls. I was ready and willing to pick calls.
I got a call from Safaricom and they said that they had received my CV but there were no job openings at the time. But they promised to reach out if an opening presented itself. This was around July in 2016. My friends were convinced that that was just their way of letting me down slowly so I couldn’t feel bad, but I had a strong conviction in my heart that they would call back at some point.
In October of the same year, they called back and told me that a job was available. They were looking for a Human Resource Manager who was visually impaired. Five of us were shortlisted for the interview and that is how I ended up getting the job.
How did it feel to finally get a good job?
It was an amazing feeling. Every time I went for interviews there the people there were so nice, they always listened and asked questions. I feel like that is everything that a disabled person needs; if you don’t understand something just ask and we will explain it. I am sure they also didn’t know what I was capable of, but they gave me an opportunity to prove myself and that is all everyone ever needs, an opportunity. I don’t think they regret their decision either, we have had a very good working relationship over the years.
I actually got the opportunity to meet Bob Collymore. It was part of the interview process, he was such a pleasant person, we talked, and he asked me questions. He told me not to be afraid and that the people in Safaricom were going to support me as much as possible and they did.
What specific measures did Safaricom put in place to ensure that you were well accommodated?
The most important thing that happened when I came to Safaricom is that they listened to me. Every disability is different, and we don’t all need the same things. Personally, I don’t need a ramp, I can comfortably walk upstairs. The people at Safaricom came to me and asked how they could support me and make it easy for me to move around. First, they provided transportation from home to work. There is a car that picks me up at in morning and drops me off in the evening, they do this for every employee with a disability and this makes life way easier for us.
The elevator at work has audible feedback so I am able to hear which floor I am on while I am inside. They also try to mark the floor for people like me because we depend on our other senses to get around and marked surfaces give us some direction about where we are going. Safaricom has tried to make sure that most of the surfaces are marked to help us move around with ease.
How would you describe an ordinary day at the office? What part of the day do you like most and which part don’t you like?
I don’t like an idle day; I find it quite tiresome when my calendar is not booked, and I don’t have work to do. I don’t like just sitting around at the office. But when I am busy, I don’t even notice as time is flying. Suddenly it is five in the evening and I have to leave, I enjoy the busy days because I feel useful and productive.
Beyond employment, what other opportunities have you gotten from being at Safaricom?
Like I said, when I got to Safaricom, I was not trained in HR but they supported me and actually paid for my classes so I could do my higher diploma and they are also paying for my CHRP course. I have also attended various trainings that have been in my field of work in employee relations. They have been immensely supportive and there hasn’t been any instance where I have suggested something, and they have turned me down. I am very happy about that.
Do you feel as if your presence at the workplace has raised some awareness about people with disability?
Yes, it has, especially in the team I work with. When I first arrived, I noticed that they were a little hesitant about asking me questions about myself and how I am able to do certain things despite being blind. I have seen them get more interested about disability and how they can promote inclusion. I can also feel like their treatment towards me has changed significantly.
They no longer treat me like an egg, in the past they would also go over and beyond to ensure I was comfortable but now they know that there is no need for all that. If everyone else is standing, then I will stand as well, there is nothing wrong with my legs. We now have very normal and regular conversations; I no longer feel like they are tiptoeing around certain things because they think I am too sensitive.
The best thing is that these days people approach me, they say I inspire them and ask if I can talk to their loved ones who are going through difficult times accepting their disabilities. Every time that happens, I feel amazing because I know that my situation has a greater purpose and it’s not just in vain.
What is the biggest misconception that people have about you?
People with disability are generally seen as very emotional and sensitive to the extent that other people avoid saying certain things to us or asking us questions. Every time someone wants to ask me a question they always say, “Can I ask you something personal, please don’t be angry?” When they actually ask the question, I wonder what they were scared of in the first place. Once people get to interact with me, they get to see that I am not a sensitive person I will answer their questions and if I don’t it will probably be because I am not comfortable, not because I am angry.
Another thing is that people always like to ask things on my behalf. Sometimes I will go somewhere with my friend and someone will ask my friend how I work when I am standing right there. I am not sure why they don’t ask me directly, maybe they assume that I do not understand but I prefer that they ask me to my face.
Some people tiptoe around the word disability because they think it is a bad word, what are your thoughts?
Sometimes I feel like it is we who have disabilities that don’t make it easy for them. Personally, you can call me blind or visually impaired and I will still be okay, I don’t mind. I think it’s the context of what you are saying that is more important than how you are saying it. There are people who don’t like to be called blind and prefer to identify as visually impaired.
Going back to my earlier point, I think it us who make it difficult for them because they are not sure how they are supposed to address us. It’s important to first listen to someone, if you feel like what they are saying is negative, respond accordingly. I am personally very outspoken, and I will definitely say something when whatever is being asked is in bad taste. I have actually never found myself in a situation where someone is being disrespectful or a bully just because I am blind. That has never happened.
What can other organizations learn from Safaricom in terms of giving disabled people fair opportunities?
They should have an open mind; they shouldn’t judge a person based on their outward appearance. Let all people be judged according to merit and ability. Safaricom isn’t too interested in what you can’t do, they only give you the opportunity and offer all the support, I can proudly say that we do deliver. We do not disappoint.
I would encourage disabled people to seek employment, not only Safaricom but in the many other companies that we have. Employment should be for all as long as you have the right qualifications. Safaricom has definitely gone a step ahead in terms of creating an environment that is inclusive but that doesn’t mean that other companies should take a step back. Safaricom shouldn’t be the only place that people with disability can find employment. We should be able to have options.
Any last words?
Growing up blind, we used to be told that the only job we could do was to become teachers. You will see that very many visually impaired people are in the teaching profession. We need to empower PWDs and show them that they can become anything they want.
Personally, no matter how many obstacles were placed ahead of me, I always found a way to overcome. I made sure that I achieved the vision I had for myself. I wanted to be independent without becoming a teacher. I wanted to be something that people hadn’t told me I could be. I wanted to try out something new and I did. If you don’t believe in yourself, society will keep finding ways of limiting you. Believe in yourself and believe in God. I attribute all I have achieved to him.
Brian Muchiri is a passionate writer who draws his inspiration from the experiences in his own life and of those around him. He is candid and he seeks to inspire society to be more pro active and vocal about the social issues that affect us. Brian is also actively involved in pushing for awareness and inclusion of people with disabilities through his foundation; Strong Spine.