Mr Willy Atono, who is visually impaired, was recently appointed as  a Grade One Magistrate. His appointment came after an endless job search. COURTESY/PHOTO 

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Meet the new visually impaired magistrate

What you need to know:

  • Despite being visually impaired, a vision disability he was born with, Mr Willy Atono says  he handled the application process by himself with no extra help.

Mr Willy Atono, goes into the history books as a visually impaired magistrate in Uganda, following his appointment last week.
His selection as Grade One Magistrate, was done by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), a government body mandated to recruit judicial  officers and discipline errant ones.

As Mr Atono waits for the swearing-in ceremony expected soon and eventual deployment to a specific workstation, he told Daily Monitor yesterday that the opportunity is satisfying as it aligns with his career ambitions.

“I would admire people presiding over cases during my adulthood years,” the 35-year old magistrate said by telephone.
He added: “The work of a magistrate gives me some level of satisfaction. I want to work and rise through the ranks to Justice of the Supreme Court.”

Part of his job now as a Grade One Magistrate will require hearing of cases filed in court as well as coming up with judgments and rulings.

He first learnt of the job offer in 2019 after a friend notified him about it. Despite being visually impaired, a vision disability he was born with, Mr Atono said he handled the application process by himself with no extra help. How? One wonders.

“I relied on a software designed in my laptop that has a voice command that guided and gave me instructions to follow when I was typing the application,” he said.

Mr Atono added: “Typing was very easy as I am currently familiar with where the buttons are placed on my laptop. My fingers know their way around the keyboard even when I can’t see.”

JAWS, the computer software programme offers a variety of features including multi-screen support and multilingual speech synthesis and assists visually impaired persons to use a Windows computer.

He says learning how to use the software, took time. He reveals that he even had to undergo training at Uganda National Association of the Blind, a nonprofit organisation whose mission is to transform lives of individuals with vision loss.

After sending his job application for a judicial job, Mr Atono said the recruiters kept giving him updates from time to time. They eventually learnt of his disability after he was shortlisted for written interviews.

“They were kind enough to get someone who would read for me the (interview) questions and after giving my responses, the person would upload them onto the computer. The answers were later assessed by the examiners,” he said.

Fortunately, Mr Atono passed the written interview stage before becoming eligible for an oral assessment, which he also sailed through before eventually being appointed into his current role.

Endless  job hunt
The married father of three said he began looking for a better job opportunity in 2017.  At the time, he was working as a lawyer attached to Twontoo and Company Advocates.

“Working in a law firm is also good but comes with its own challenges and this is why I kept searching for other opportunities that required someone with my kind of qualifications,” he said.

He studied a Bachelors of Laws at Makerere University and graduated in 2012. He then proceeded to Law Development Centre (LDC) and enroled for a post graduate diploma in legal practice from 2014 to 2015.

Mr Atono said he sent several applications to different organisations including government agencies but all were in vain.

“For some of these jobs, the recruiters would call me for both written and oral interviews. But, for some reason, I would never get hired, which was very frustrating. At some point, I started to believe that I was not getting hired because of my disability.” he revealed.

Determined
But, rather than giving up, Mr Atono said he persevered until his breakthrough came.

“The job hunting can be very frustrating to seekers, but don’t give up. Continue applying. That job will eventually come,” he counselled.

Until his deployment (as a Grade One Magistrate), Mr Atono, who is based in Lira District in private practice, said he will continue serving as a lawyer, a role that involves standing before respective magistrates to argue cases for clients.

Regarding how he has been able to conduct his job effectively during the previous years, Mr Atono said while in court, he personally types proceedings. Sometimes he records or uses an assistant to help him conduct specific duties.

“I also make judgments based on someone’s tone of voice. I don’t really need to draw conclusions based on appearances,” he said.
In order to access court premises, Mr Atono uses a walking aid.
 “Challenges may arise when I miss a couple of steps when walking,” he said.

On occasions he is not familiar with the court environment, he asks people around for directions.

JSC speaks  
Justice Benjamin Kabiito, the chairperson of the JSC said their policy is to recruit judicial officers from diverse background.

“It is our duty as JSC, in exercise of the appointment function, to improve the diversity footprint of the Judiciary. Our policy is to appoint judicial officers that improve the diversity profile of the judiciary, for it to reflect the character of our people from whom judicial power is derived,” said Justice Kabiito.

He added: “For the Judiciary, the appointment of judicial officers from diverse backgrounds and minority communities helps to inform their appreciation of challenges to access to justice that such communities face and have to surmount daily. In the end, such appointments serve to improve the administration of justice and strengthen the rule of law and enhance public confidence in the Judiciary.”

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