Woman smashed through the ‘triple-glazed glass ceiling’ to become Britain’s first blind and black barrister

Jess had to use Braille texts throughout her time at university and make her own learning materials

A woman is celebrating after she smashed through what she has called the "triple-glazed glass ceiling" to become Britain‘s first blind and Black barrister.

Jessikah Inaba, aged 23, qualified in October 2022 after studying for five years at a London university.  She completed her entire course using Braille and credits her friends and tutors for helping her to learn everything she needed to know.

Jessikah, who is known as Jess, has now joined the Bar and it is thought she is likely to be the nation’s first blind and black barrister.

Jessikah Inaba, aged 23, who has passed the Bar to qualifiy as the UK’€™s first blind black barrister.Jessikah Inaba, aged 23, who has passed the Bar to qualifiy as the UK’€™s first blind black barrister.
Jessikah Inaba, aged 23, who has passed the Bar to qualifiy as the UK’€™s first blind black barrister.

"I always believed in myself from the start”

Jess is completely blind and had to use Braille throughout her time at the University of Law, London Bloomsbury. She is blind because of an eye condition called Bilateral microphthalmia, where babies are born with smaller than usual eyes.

Jess started her accelerated law degree in September 2017 before starting a master’s two years later alongside a professional training course.

Jess, from Camden, north London, said: "It’s been crazy - I still can’t really believe I’ve done it. One day I’ll wake up and realise how amazing this is. It was hard and I often thought of giving up, but my supportive family gave me courage and strength.

"I always believed in myself from the start - there’s nothing about me which means this isn’t possible. I know I can do this job really well, and the more people like me who go through training the easier it will become.

"It’s a really good feeling, I know I’m giving hope to others in similar situations to mine. 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."

"I was spending more time preparing my own learning materials”

Jess claims it took seven months for her university to get one of her two key study texts so she could read on her computer, and five months for the other. In addition, due to the pictures and tables in the books, her Braille screen missed huge chunks of material.

She says she got through most of her studies by making her own Braille materials from her lecture notes, or from friends reading the books to her. She also said, however, that the university organised one-on-one tuition to support her when the lack of books held her back.

Jess said: "I was spending more time preparing my own learning materials than I was studying. I was hospitalised because I kept fainting in October 2019 because I’d been functioning on about three hours sleep a night for two years.

"The university had other visually impaired people who used text to speech, but I just can’t work like that. I need to read it physically for myself or I can’t remember it. Everyone is different and has a different work around for various situations.

"A lot of people registered blind have some vision, so they can sometimes use large print, or some blind people manage well just by listening to text. Braille is expensive to produce because you need a lot of special software and equipment."

"I’m very proud but I do wish it had all gone smoothly”

In court, Jess uses a tiny electronic machine with a Braille keyboard which has one key for each dot and a small screen where symbols pop up. It means she can keep her ears free to listen and can read and edit easily just using her hands.

She now wears her gown and wig with pride, having worked so hard to earn them. She says that, because there are so few black barristers, no one has given thought to how hard it is to put a wig over her hair, so she has to have it plated so it will fit.

Jess said: "I’m very proud but I do wish it had all gone smoothly. I feel because of disabled access problems my results aren’t a true reflection of my ability. I reckon as a black person I have to work ten times harder than others just to be accepted by society.

"Before I can see a client I have to prove I’m a lawyer and justify my need for my specialist equipment. People from minority groups training to do this will face discrimination, hopefully that will get easier with time.

“If it happens don’t be too shocked, just carry on following your dreams, you’ll get there."

A role model within the profession

Jess is likely to be the nation’s first blind and black barrister. None of the UK’s many legal organisations contacted, including the four Inns of Court, the Bar Council and the Bar Standards Board, could find another example.

The University of Law congratulated Jess on her achievements.

A spokesperson for The University of Law said: "Jess is the first black and blind student to study at The University of Law. As a university we were able to provide additional support to ensure Jess was able to succeed on the courses.

"There were challenges with sourcing materials in braille but we were pleased to be able to provide these eventually. We are extremely proud of Jess’ achievements and we know she will be an inspiration to all students, showing that you can succeed in the face of physical challenges. We wish her the very best in her future career."

The Bar Council also congratulated Jess.

Sam Mercer, head of diversity and inclusion at the Bar Council, said: "Huge congratulations to Jessikah on joining the Bar. 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.”

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