BY CALUM FRASER firstname.lastname@example.org
Nana Marfo lived the first two years of his life in a glass box. He has devoted his life to breaking the glass ceiling on disabled people in the workplace.
The Deptford boy was born more than three months premature and had to be kept in an incubator until he was two. But his windpipe did not develop, leaving him with a lifelong condition called tracheal stenosis, which almost destroyed his ability to speak.
He has to breathe through an artificial pipe in his throat. He later suffered the loss of sight in his right eye.
The 35-year-old has now been shortlisted for the National Diversity Awards (NDA) prize, seeing off almost 25,000 nominees to make the 124 person shortlist.
Nana was chosen because of the work he does tackling workplace discrimination against people with disabilities.
He said: “I almost lost my voice. Now I feel a duty to use it to speak for those who feel they do not have one. “My passion is to see every person with a disability treated fairly by employers. We all deserve access to the workplace and to one which is accommodating and gives full support to people with disabilities.”
Nana spent almost 10 years in the civil service before becoming an employment support officer at Croydon council.
He said: “From a young age I was told my disability would stop me from getting work and that I was worthless.
At 20 I learned that my father had tried to have my life support switched off.
In the culture he comes from, having a disabled child meant you were not man enough to have a healthy one.
My experience has motivated me to support others. I am turning my struggles into a positive impact, so that others do not go through what I did.”
Nana’s father has moved back to Ghana, while Nana lives with his partner in Dacca Street, Deptford, 10 minutes from where he grew up with his mother and two sisters.
He said: “Education is key. Children need to be educated about how to support the disabled.
My aim is to make this part of the curriculum and sit down with the education secretary by this time next year.
“Education was the problem with my father. He did not understand. If we can educate the children it will then help feed into the workplace.”
Nana was nominated for the NDA award by Croydon council, where he works on Proof of Concept, a DWP initiative, delivered by Gateway services.
It aims to get people with disabilities into supported employment and increase their independence.
In one case he helped a man in Croydon with autism to start a nursery apprenticeship after more than 30 unsuccessful applications for other jobs.
He also supported another man who had been long-term unemployed, after a stroke, to get a job as a court usher.
Nana said: “I was overwhelmed when I heard I’d made the shortlist, to be honest. I am excited to meet all the other nominees as well in September.”
The NDA winners will be announced on September 14 at the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool.
To view a full list of nominees and buy tickets to the event visit www.nationaldiversityawards.co.uk/shortlist