updated on 01 November 2022
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Jessikah Inaba, aged 23, made history last week, qualifying as Britain’s first Black, blind barrister.
In a statement Jessikah gave to The Times she said: “I know I can do this job well, and the more people like me who go through training the easier it will become. I know I'm giving hope to others in similar situations. 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.”
Jessikah completed a five-year course using Braille to read legal texts at The University of Law in London.
The number of pictures and tables in textbooks meant Jessikah’s Braille screen missed large chunks of material. She got through the majority of her studies by making her own Braille notes or by asking friends and family to read to her. She also credited her university for providing additional 1:1 support when her lack of access to study materials held her back.
Jessikah explained that she was spending more time preparing her own learning materials than studying and was then hospitalised in 2019. She recalled working on just three hours sleep for two years and consistently eating at her desk which led to her needing an emergency iron infusion. She revealed to The Mirror that she’s also faced racist attitudes in the past, when prison officials assumed she was visiting a relative rather than a lawyer interviewing clients.
Despite the hurdles Jessikah has overcome she said: “I feel because of disabled access problems my results aren’t a true reflection of my ability.” Jessikah now plans to apply for a pupillage but admits she feels disheartened by the barriers she continues to face: “I have to accept I might never be competing on a level playing field. That’s hard. I reckon as a Black person I have to work 10 times harder than others just to be accepted by society.”
According to the Bar Standards Board’s Report on diversity at the Bar, just 14.7% of working barristers are from minority ethnic backgrounds. This impacts the everyday working practices of Black barristers, as Jessikah highlights, wearing the wig over her natural hair is challenging.
Jessikah’s commitment has been praised by Justice McGowan DBE who called her remarkable. Her success has also been noted by Sam Mercer, head of diversity and inclusion at the Bar Council who said: “Role models like Jessikah within the profession have an important part to play in helping us to break down barriers to the Bar and encourage a more diverse profession.”
Find out more about the experiences of Black lawyers in our LCN Says Black History Month book review.