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Black and blind woman, 23, breaks 'triple-glazed glass ceiling' to become barrister

Jessikah Inaba has become the UK's first blind black barrister. (SWNS)
Jessikah Inaba is believed to have become the UK's first blind black barrister. (SWNS)

A 23-year-old is celebrating smashing through a "triple-glazed glass ceiling" to become a barrister.

Jessikah Inaba spent five years studying at university in London, completing her entire course using Braille along with help from friends and tutors.

She has now joined the Bar, and is believed to be one of a tiny handful of blind and black women to qualify as a barrister.

Inaba, from Camden, north London, admitted she had often thought about giving up, but didn't and always knew it was possible to achieve her goal.

Inaba had to use Braille and help from tutors and friends to keep up with her studies. (SWNS)
Inaba had to use Braille and help from tutors and friends to keep up with her studies. (SWNS)

She said: "I always believed in myself from the start - there's nothing about me which means this isn't possible.

"I know I can do this job really well, and the more people like me who go through training the easier it will become.

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"It's a really good feeling, I know I'm giving hope to others in similar situations to mine. There's a triple glazed glass ceiling.

"I'm not the most common gender or colour, and I have a disability, but by pushing through I'm easing the burden on the next person like me."

She now plans to apply for a pupillage, and urged others to chase their dreams even if they seemed impossible. (SWNS)
She now plans to apply for a pupillage, and urged others to chase their dreams even if they seemed impossible. (SWNS)

The 23-year-old started her accelerated law degree in September 2017 before starting a masters' two years later alongside a professional training course.

Completely blind due to an eye condition called Bilateral microphthalmia, where babies are born with smaller than usual eyes, she had to use Braille throughout her time at the University of Law - London Bloomsbury.

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But she said it took seven months for her university to obtain one of her two key study texts so she could read it using her computer, and five months for the other, and her Braille screen also missed huge chunks of material due to pictures and tables in the books.

She got through most of her studies by making her own Braille materials from her lecture notes, or from friends reading books to her, and the university also organised one-on-one tuition to support her when the lack of books held her back.

"I was spending more time preparing my own learning materials than I was studying," she added.

"I was hospitalised because I kept fainting in October 2019 because I'd been functioning on about three hours sleep a night for two years."

Inaba uses specialist equipment to write in braille. (SWNS)
Inaba uses specialist equipment to write in braille. (SWNS)

Some other visually impaired people used 'text to speech', she said, but she found it hard to study that way.

"Everyone is different and has a different work around for various situations," she said.

"A lot of people registered blind have some vision, so they can sometimes use large print, or some blind people manage well just by listening to text.

"Braille is expensive to produce because you need a lot of special software and equipment."

In court she uses a tiny electronic machine with a Braille keyboard which has one key for each dot and a small screen where symbols pop up, so she can listen and read and edit easily just using her hands.

She now plans to apply for a pupillage - where newly qualified barristers get their first placement in chambers - when applications open in January.

She said: "I'm very proud but I do wish it had all gone smoothly. I feel because of disabled access problems my results aren't a true reflection of my ability.

"I reckon as a black person I have to work ten times harder than others just to be accepted by society.

"Before I can see a client I have to prove I'm a lawyer and justify my need for my specialist equipment.

"If I was an older white man who can see my professional life would be so much easier.

"I have to accept I might never be competing on a level playing field - that's hard. People from minority groups training to do this will face discrimination, hopefully that will get easier with time."

Inaba says she is thrilled to have smashed through the
Inaba says she is thrilled to have smashed through the "triple glazed glass ceiling". (SWNS)

The University of Law said: "Jess is the first black and blind student to study at The University of Law.

"As a university we were able to provide additional support to ensure Jess was able to succeed on the courses.

"There were challenges with sourcing materials in braille but we were pleased to be able to provide these eventually.

"We are extremely proud of Jess’ achievements and we know she will be an inspiration to all students, showing that you can succeed in the face of physical challenges.

"We wish her the very best in her future career."

This article was updated on 8 November