“I was made to feel voiceless, but now I fight for others to be seen and heard” – Nana Marfo
We at BoxHuman take time to celebrate humans who are inspiring, helping, and bringing light to the world. We do this in order to rebalance some of the negative messages we often hear, see, and receive on a daily basis. We met up with one of these amazing individuals…
Hi Nana, it’s so awesome to meet you. Shall we dive straight in… Can you please tell us a little bit about you and what you do?
My name is Nana Marfo, a thirty-six-year-old gentleman who lives and breaths from a tracheostomy tube which is a permanent fixture in my life.
The reason why I live with my tube is due to being born six months premature. It was established early on, that my airways were too narrow as they hadn’t fully developed. I am a disability advocate and a director that runs a social enterprise called Unique Abilities Ltd.
My company enables people of indifference to have their voices and presence noticed in society and on a global scale. However, my day job, or if you want to call it, my career, is an employment enablement officer for a local authority assisting people of indifference.
My role is to work with people with all forms of barriers to gain access and support within the employment sector. Another purpose of my role is to enable them to enter the labour markets and start earning a salary.
As well to all of this, I am also a positive contributor to the purple economy being the disabled financial monetary power worth 249 billion pounds.
What a powerful intro and start to this interview, thank you! Can you please tell us in your own words how your inspiring journey began, what happened and why?
My journey all began in the year 1983 when I was born premature and lacking the ability to breathe or to have my first cry due to a narrow airway. This complication was a result of being born early. Being born so early and weighing a bag of sugar, meant that I had to live two years in an incubator; for me to fully develop into a full-grown baby that could integrate with the universe…
My journey all began in the year 1983 when I was born premature and lacking the ability to breathe or to have my first cry due to a narrow airway. This complication was a result of being born early. Being born so early and weighing a bag of sugar, meant that I had to live two years in an incubator; for me to fully develop into a full-grown baby that could integrate with the universe.
Growing up my life was very sheltered due to my immune system being very fragile as well as my respiratory system not being fully protected. I had to have months of speech therapy so that I could speak, as speaking with a tracheostomy is often very difficult.
For months and years, I continually had to visit medical professionals to continually make sure that there weren’t any further complications. During this period in my life, I felt very invisible. Speaking wasn’t my strong point not by choice, but due to the complication of having my tracheostomy.
A lot of my communication was done by my mother. She had to get me all the support I needed from local authorities, educational departments to doctors, and nurses, and resolve any medical issues that I had.
My educational life wasn’t plain sailing, especially back in the early 1990s. Local councils were not set up to deal with a person of disability, on a case by case basis. Unfortunately, once you were labelled ‘disabled’ the solution from the department of education at that time, was to enrol your child into the SEND process without fully investigating them.
This became a battle as I had to spend four years of my infant life out of the educational system all because the cost and the duty of my care were not being acknowledged. My mother ‘fought’ the local authorities at the time, and it went so far as a tribunal dispute. This was all just to get her child to have an equal education as a normal child.
Due to this, I never really knew what it was like to have my own voice heard on issues that concerned me. I only found my voice in my late 20s when I had experienced the harsh reality of being a disabled young, black man within the employment sector.
It all started, when I applied to ‘The common reasonable adjustment process’ a scheme founded and run by the department of work pensions in 1994, but was denied. My unfortunate health circumstances failed me in my career journey all due to the lack of middle management who lacked confidence with disabled employees.
My career within the corporate sector on several different occasions was hindered whilst in full-time employment. This made me feel alienated within the workplace. This feeling of not being heard in the complexities of our contemporary society angered me, and at that point, I vowed to be heard and seen – this is when Mr Unique Voice was born.
I gave myself that name as having a tube connected to my voice box made it difficult to breathe and speak which made my voice a unique trait. I found that speaking out about my own employment journey; became apparent that it wasn’t an isolated problem. Some employers lack the ‘humane empathy’ and supportive technique to sustain and support a person with indifferences within the workplace. These types of employers, unfortunately, tend to be policy-driven and HR protected, instead of understanding the needs of a person who requires some extra support.
WOW, Nana that was incredibly inspiring! It just shows how a human can choose to empower their life journey and turn something someone would think should ‘hinder’ them into doing something so strong and positive. As with life, we can have some barriers that are thrown at us, so what has been your biggest challenge so far and how have you overcome it?
I think for me, my biggest barrier has been when I was made to feel voiceless and unseen by an employer. It was as if somehow my tracheostomy made me ‘appear’ lazy and my points of view either positive or negative didn’t matter. It was like my existence didn’t count as an employee.
Everything related to disability seems to be either a fight or there is some ‘hidden’ political reason why people like myself are always on the back foot. It’s a real struggle having to fight just to be recognised or gain funding, and I feel that some employers never seem to acknowledge how a disabled person feels. To be disabled and to have the boldness to address employee rights, or just to ask for assistance is a huge step despite being rejected 80% of the time.
I don’t know how I’ve managed to overcome rejection and lack of disability awareness. However, I know that by educating our community, challenging what the social model stands for, and networking with employers and the educational system as in schools, colleges and universities will only help to change the current narrative.
“you are that rose that grew from concrete but you can not allow the circumstance of your growth to determine your roots of empowerment”
– Nana Marfo
Thank you Nana for sharing that! We’re not even halfway through and I am now SUPER inspired! So knowing that you are very much about changing the narrative. Can you please tell us what is Mr Unique Voice working on at the moment and why? How can people get involved? And…What do you want people to learn from what you are doing?
Currently, I am working on a project which will take place in the summer. The event will launch on the 20th of June 2020 in Croydon called #DisabilityProudCroydon.
This project was created to celebrate and acknowledge people with disabilities giving them a community, respect, and opportunities that they have been denied. Enabling the change of narrative toward transport, retail, and employment accessibility.
Being proud to be disabled and educating the uneducated to embrace a modern culture of people from all walks of life and barriers is very important to me.
How people can help is by donating money by click this link https://www.justgiving.com/
What I really want people to take from this event is to appreciate people of indifference and include us in every aspect of society. It should not just be about signing pledges or saying you will help improve the lives of disabled people to feel you are inclusive.
Showing real action by putting the ‘man’ power behind the words enables the narrative to really change.
What an awesome event that is so long overdue, congratulations Nana for pulling it all together and making it happen! So, without being cheesy I have to ask…What makes you smile and inspires you to be you on a daily basis and why?
What makes me smile is when someone reads my story and I can help change their mindset on life. Another would be when I am the first contact for someone interacting with a disabled person. I hope that I can hopefully open their eyes and be an educational tool for them.
What has and still inspires me is my mother Mrs. Amu Sekeywaa Marfo who came from a country called Ghana from a village namely Japekrom. Having no form of higher education she persevered and managed to enable me to live life; even though my survival rate was below 20%. Due to her struggle back then, it has meant that today I have an opportunity at being a hope for others.
Very inspiring Nana. You’ve given me, and I’m sure the people who read this another reason to be inspired and thankful for amazing humans like you. We’d love to know from such an inspirational human being – What three things inspire you on a daily basis and why?
Let the world hear you and see you because your contribution is needed for a brighter and clear day on earth. Without different voices or images, the narrative of society and inclusion means nothing but words without context or substance.
What future life goals do you want to achieve and why? And in three words how would you describe yourself.
My future life goal would be to have a world that doesn’t need to discuss why a disabled person needs a job, or why a disabled person should or shouldn’t be paid in employment.
I want disabled people that do a job just as prefect and competent as an able-bodied person to get the same salary without any questions being asked. I want conversations about supported employment and funding to become the ‘norm’ and a review category for all employers in relation to this become mandatory.
My reason for wanting these steps in place is to change the mindset of employers about disabled people. I no longer want disabled people to be branded as lazy due to their own barriers not being the right fit for certain companies.
If I had to describe myself in three words towards disability it would fiery, determined, and open.
And last but not least… A BoxHuman is an empowered individual. They will not be defined by society’s labels. They show the better qualities of humankind, such as strength, kindness, and inspiration. Can you please tell us what makes you a BoxHuman?
What makes me a BoxHuman is my humane feeling for wanting change and equal treatment.
A person is more than money and physical or internal disability there is a person behind all those obstacles. I feel like a human we all deserve good things and we can all achieve our goals provided we are really being listened too.
Being heard and seen by employers, community, family, and giant corporate firms who either deal with our medical requirements or consumer needs must be changed for the better.
All I am asking is to be heard and received with respect as a person before someone sees my indifference.
“Thank you, Nana.”
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