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Looking Back at the Roof of Africa

Looking Back at the Roof of Africa

Written by John Samuel

Ten years ago this month, I reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, the largest mountain in Africa. The 20,000-foot mountain is the largest free-standing mountain in the world. When I moved to Africa in 2009, I had my sights on reaching the top of it. While in Africa, I built a multimillion-dollar business and brought internet access to millions of people across Africa. After three eventful years, I was finally ready to tackle the mountain. After the first day of my weeklong trek, my guide told me I would not be able to make it to the top because I was blind.

Sorry to say, this was not the first time that someone had told me that I would not be able to accomplish something because of my disability. In fact, I heard it throughout my career. I will not lie and say that I did not let it impact me. In fact, I still carry the scars of being overlooked or denied access to jobs and roles with companies I dreamed about working for. Now those scars are signs of my journey to finding my superpowers.

John and his guide, Stephen, climbing up the snowy slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro.

What I did not know was that every time I got back up and kept moving forward, after a slip or fall on the mountain, was something called resilience. To me, this was just part of life. When I failed out of college, I dusted myself off, and found my way to another school where I could graduate, and when I could no longer drive because of my diminishing sight, I did not let that stop me from moving halfway around the world to India, where I could find a solution to my transportation barriers.

What I did not realize was that this thing called resilience is a superpower, and something that every company and organization wants from an employee. Yet, for years I did not realize that this was valuable. I kept these stories and scars a secret from employers, because I thought they would only see it as a liability.

But on June 5, 2012, as I stood on the top of the highest peak in Africa, even though I could not see the magical view from where I was, I could finally see the beauty in my failures and challenges, because they were what enabled me to reach my goal.

So, to all of you who are trying to drive change for greater accessibility and disability inclusion, do not let the naysayers or doubters stop you from doing what is right. Accessibility is a journey, and you will need resilience if you are going to reach your goal, but do not worry, the Ablr team and I will be right next to you to help dust you off, and help you move forward!

John and his guide, Stephen, standing proudly at the Uhuru Peak.