> > > Maria Oshodi

Do you consider yourself to be a leader?

Yes I do. It’s a slightly… for me it feels like an akward label because I don’t feel like a leader all the time in my personal and even in my professional life. There are some times in my professional life where I feel that if I step out of my comfort zone, that means the people that I mainly have contact with, and I am around, say, other organisations or professionals who are working in a different way, I suddenly start to feel less like a leader. But more and more and more and more so on an everyday basis within Extant, for instance, I do feel very much like a leader, yes.

What is your leadership style?

I am very good at working autonomously. I think I am very self motivated and I have a lot of self discipline so I work very well on my own, in terms of thinking up ideas, when I am networking, working out how links can be made between certain things that we are doing and that other people are doing. And I think certainly with the history of the work that I have done with Extant and the risks that I have taken and the more things that I have pulled off, and the experience that I have gained, the more I do that and the more confidence I have about initiating ideas and then rolling them out as proposals and trying to seek funding for them. And then there is the other part of leadership or of skills or of the way that I work and that is enrolling people to buy in to the idea and that’s another approach that I think that I’m sort of ok at. Its by saying ‘I’ve had this idea, don’t you think its great, wouldn’t you like to be part of it? I think that you can be part of it, if you looked at what you can do and you’re really great at that, and you could feed into this idea on this level – are you up for that? Are you interested in doing that? You might not be able to do it now, but maybe 6 months down the line if we have the funding in place, would you be up for that?’ and people generally go ‘yeah, that sounds really interesting’ and then 6 months later I go back to them and if it works for them then they are on board.

Has your experience of disability affected how you feel about leadership?

Yes, I think that having an impairment, and obviously I can only speak from having the impairment that I have got, but I think that there is something particular about visual impairment, that impacts on ones outward persona, particularly in relation to the social aspect of leadership and getting on and developing. The whole thing about not being… you can’t see your environment. You have connection with it in other ways, but that chief way that’s a tool that most people who are sighted use in order to negotiate and to interact, you don’t have to varying degrees, in my case very much so – my sight has changed quite a lot, now I have got very little sight and so going in to a crowded room, I don’t know who is there and I don’t know who is approaching me, I don’t know who is behind me when I am talking about them, you know its that kind of thing. And all of that sort of thing, it initially did have a major impact on the way that I saw myself and that has changed over time.

What strategies have you put in place to give you more control?

I’m getting more confident about declaring what my needs are. The more that I have grown into what I do, the more that I feel I can demand, no, that’s not the right word, express what it is that I need, so that to ring up an organisation who have said, for instance, why don’t you come and meet us, if I am limited in the number of hours of access I have, I will say to that organisation, well, you know, where are you based, what’s your nearest station, how far are you from the station, can you give me directions… if they seem really complicated is there someone who could come and meet me maybe at the nearest station. So that sort of thing I don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about, those things are just my needs and that’s what I need to express and one way or another its just one of the resources that I have built up for myself over the years that will enable me to get to do what I need to do.

How have you ‘learnt’ to best manage your access needs?

I think that what happens is that it is almost like these transformational stages that you go through and you don’t know what you don’t know until you know what you know and then you know that what you used to know isn’t enough, in a sense, if you see what I mean! And so you cope and you survive in the paradigm that you are in and then suddenly something will occur to you and… what I found a lot within disability (and particularly within the visually impaired community) is that by mixing with more and more visually impaired people, and disabled people, you get access to what’s around and what’s available and what other people do, and that starts to influence what you do and you start to take on other people’s methods or coping strategies and try them on yourself and if they fit, they fit and if they don’t, they don’t, and often my evolution has come through rubbing up very close to other disabled people and learning from them.

Have you ever tried to hide your impairment or, conversely, has it ever given you more control?

I remember when I was partially sighted, which was for about ten years of my life, and I was a teenager at the time and, you know, a very different person. That was my experience of having a hidden disability, as far as I was concerned. I was just completely plagued with such a level of self consciousness, probably as I say, because I was a teenager as well, but definitely because of my visual impairment and this tension of not wanting it to be discovered, revealed, you know, or only in a very kind of tightly held way so that I had complete control over how it happened. It would happen kind of in a corner over here and that’s where I let anybody know about it, and then we all moved back to the ‘normal world’ and I was alright again, that sort of thing. I felt the difference between that way of living in the world and the way I am now and I do have a bit of a, you know… for instance, walking into this building I had a sense of ‘do you know who I am?’, I walk around with that sense, which sounds really poncy but that’s what somehow… maybe it’s the upside and the downside of this whole leadership thing is that you do go around with a sense of self but maybe sometimes an inflated sense of self as well! And sometimes when my needs aren’t met as quickly as I want them to be or in the right way, I can feel myself bristling and I kind of loose a sense of humility maybe that used to have when I was less aware or less kind of grown in all of this and I don’t think that’s particularly healthy for me and its not necessarily a good way of interacting with others and getting the best out of other people in terms of partnership, getting your needs met. So that can also be a problem.

Do you think disabled people are seen as “difficult”?

Well I think that yes, because of our impairment that we are seen as ‘sufferers’. I was in Sainsbury’s yesterday and somebody said “oh, that poor woman” I turned around to the assistant but she had gone by then and I kind of really let rip and said “poor? Poor? There’s nothing poor about my life!” and I sort of went on and on like this! So, I think that people feel our lives are denied in some way because we don’t have certain faculties but I think that they don’t think that we are poor and suffering because of their lack of being able to meet us halfway or have any awareness about our needs. They think that we are suffering because of our bodies; they don’t think we’re suffering because their attitude could be different. And I think in those situations, what my target is, what my focus is ‘you could be doing better here for me’, and I get angry with them and that grumpiness means they maybe perceive me as grumpy because I am blind.


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Louise Skirton

You are not "grumpy" just pissed off at being treated differently

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