Disability is no inability; meet the golden-hearted Emmanuel Mhehwa, a blind man who has not let the disability define him

MAN OF HIS TALENTS AND A HUGE HEART: Emmanuel Mhehwa at his home in Dodoma, Tanzania

MAN OF HIS TALENTS AND A HUGE HEART: Emmanuel Mhehwa at his home in Dodoma, Tanzania

He can look into your computer, or Ipad, Ipod, you name it and make it run smoothly, or clean and rid your electronic gadget of viruses or help you install a latest software. He also can just drill you in some basic computer maintenance tips.

You always marvel at IT technicians when they ask to have a look or touch on your ailing or malfunctioning devices, then they diagnose and fix whatever is wrong with them.

But how would you react if your IT technician cannot see? what if they are totally blind? Well, Emmanuel Mhehwa is that “IT Professional”.

Mhehwa,32, is a Tanzanian Lawyer and IT Professional and he is blind, Mhehwa was born blind, but that disability has in no way stood in the way of his dreams.

He was born without no sense of sight but his vision of what he wanted to be in life was and is still very much intact.

“I had a keen ear for computers but kept wondering how a blind man could learn computers, obviously at first I felt it was impossible,” he narrates with a smirk.

But later in life when he was in third year at the University of Dar es Salaam pursuing his LL.B., he cast his doubts aside and decided to go for it. He has some kind of an epiphany, He looks back “I made the decision, it’s possible, and I have to do it.”

In 2008, Mhehwa started learning basic computer skills, and although his friends and classmates would laugh at, and make fun of him, he “couldn’t care and my love to know more about computers stretched higher.”

Mhehwa recalls how he had to prove to himself and many naysayers that there were many things he could accomplish despite the fact that he was blind.

“I spent Sh450, 000 of the Sh550, 000 I had received from the Higher Education Student’s Loan Board (HESLB) for research, to buy a desktop computer,” he says of the risk he took to acquire his first computer.

Mhehwa, the only blind member in his entire family, considers himself lucky, given his ability to defy insurmountable odds. On other challenges he had to navigate along the road he says “I would spend at least 4 to 5 hours at the night surfing and searching the internet with the help of technology, computers can now talk, my phone, tablets and all electronic devices can talk, through searching the web, I discovered something (s) new every time.”

Mhehwa navigates his mobile phone and Ipad with ease, he types, and reads text messages and he types and sends out emails to clients and friends.

Mhehwa also gives back; on occasion, he wires some money to a friend or family member back home at the village, thanks to his mobile phone.

His first computer application was a Thunder screen reader, a free screen reader talking software for blind and visually impaired persons.

He also has JAWS—Job Access With Speech, the world’s most popular screen reader, developed for computer users whose vision loss prevents them from seeing screen content or use the mouse.

At the university, Mhehwa remembers when he used to have fellow students read to him aloud in class, but all that changed when he set his hands on a computer.

He feels sorry for those students who helped reading him his textbooks and class assignments. And he will be forever be grateful.

“But with the computer I started doing everything myself, I would ask the professors to give me soft copy material of which I could read easily.” he tells Afrika Reporter.

His friends and other students couldn’t believe what they would see him do. His independence took them by surprise.

His passion for computers and the zeal and ease to learn as many applications as possible earned him a Certificate of Computer Application for the blind. He later took some online course at US-based Hadley School for Blind and became an IT Professional, as the adage goes, the rest is history.

While in his first year at the University of Dar es Salaam School of Law (2011-12), Mhehwa developed a computer manual to help not only the blind, but those who aren’t.

He was immediately hired as an Assistant Technology Specialist at the Open University of Dar es Salaam to carry out a variety of support and repair functions for network computers, including software installation and hardware maintenance within the College Technical Information Systems Unit.

“I pretty much figured out technical problems and fixed them, i could even help personnel who weren’t blind, they could frequently knock on my door for help, and I would gladly help.” Mhehwa boasts.

Mhehwa, a happily married father of two was born and raised in Chinangali village, Dodoma’s Kongwa district. He spent his seven years at Buigiri Primary School of Visual Impaired and Sighted Pupils. He joined Mpwapwa Secondary for his secondary education in the early 2000s and later was admitted at the University of Dar es Salaam to study law.

Mhehwa is a man on a mission, his goal is to help his fellow citizens with disabilities. He runs a busy Electronics shop in Dodoma, dealing in software and hardware computer equipment for people with disabilities.

He now works with Action on Disability and Development, (ADD)Tanzania, a nongovernmental orgarnisation helping people with disabilities around the country, especially those living in poor communities.

His teacher Matilda Ngwira, who still teaches at Buigiri Primary School describes Mhehwa as not only an inspiration, but he “has also shown courage in the face of destitution and adversity.”

Mhehwa is a busy man, he offers IT consultancy and training to both the blind and those with vision. He has trained at least 90 people as of May this year.

He has big plans for not only himself but the community especially fellow disabled who happen to be underprivileged. “No one would wish to be an employee forever.” he says with a wide smile “… I plan to have an academic institution to help the disabled and the able ones affected by economic hardships.”

For inefficient state-run websites, Mhehwa says they are totally blind to the needs of the blind. He adds most of them do not meet the demand for totally blind people. He challenges topnotch programmers and designers to fix this.

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder

When asked about his inspiration, without hesitation, cites the American Singer Stevie Wonder, for starters, like Mhehwa, Stevie, is totally blind but his lack of sight never held him back. The Michigan native has won 25 Grammies among other awards.

Back to our Mhehwa, he appeals to the government and policymakers to ensure the education system does not live the blind, and pupils with other disabilities behind.

He says, he is glad to train others adapt to usage of mobile applications; he simply wants them liberated from absolute dependence.

His success and achievements notwithstanding, Emmanuel Mhehwa, who has become a celebrity in his own right, singles out old fashioned HARD WORK AND DETERMINATION as the philosophy for success.

He signs off saying “I am humbled, I feel humbled; I feel the weight for the need and burden to do right. The community understands what I have become, and every day I try to do something worthy of their recognition, I am determined to help others taste success”