Disabled with polio from the neck down aged 5, Mark Esho was told he would never walk again. Although he partially recovered, he had to battle against an abusive father and discrimination as a black and disabled person. But not only did he survive, Mark thrived!
” I was born in Leicester and enjoyed a normal childhood until, without warning, at the age of five I contracted polio. I literally went to bed a healthy child and woke up fighting for my life. I was one of the last people in the UK to contract polio and it was a severe case that left me hospitalised and paralysed from the neck down. The doctors said I would never walk again and my chance of survival was only 10%.
Despite my poor prognosis, I did survive. After many trying years in the hospital I managed a partial recovery, though I was confined to a wheelchair – a huge blow to my independence. I have since regained most of my upper body strength and am able to walk with callipers but I still consider myself disabled as with one leg fully paralysed, the other leg at 25% and one arm at 50%, I’ve only got one limb at 100%.
Unfortunately, my problems were just beginning. It was hard for me to come to terms with my disability at such a young age, and how it would affect my until-then normal life. My father on the other hand could not accept it at all. As a result I had to endure a shocking degree of physical and psychological trauma on top of my disability, which continued for most of my childhood. I had moved back to Nigeria at that time and my father would wake me up in the middle of the night with no explanation and take me out into the wilderness where a witch doctor would try to ‘cure’ me in horrific and painful ways. My father also wouldn’t let me use my wheelchair and when my callipers broke he refused to replace them.
All these trials made me stronger and I was determined to make something of myself. I knew I was capable of more. I returned to the UK and went on to university achieving a Masters degree in business administration (MBA). Equipped with this I decided to tackle the job market only to find that my disability continued to be held against me, and being black I faced open discrimination over and over again. After years in dead-end jobs, a charity finally gave me a chance and I became a manager there.
Unfortunately this brief period of stability didn’t last. In 1999 I developed post-polio syndrome. Not many people realise, but 30 to 40 years after the original instance of the disease, 80% of polio victims begin to experience muscle ache and chronic fatigue. After working so hard and fighting discrimination to secure a job, the illness forced me to quit.
However, there was a silver lining because it allowed me to develop my interest in the Internet. I had always had an entrepreneurial streak and had set up a brokerage as a teenager where I could exchange comics and adventure books with the other students. In 2000 I saw another opportunity and set up my first company, Easy Internet Services. I was completely broke and had to use using a credit card as cash flow, but I had done my research and was convinced that it would work so I took the gamble. We were one of the first companies to offer SEO services in the UK when it was very poorly understood and I ended up working for the likes of big companies like the Guardian, Co-op and Amstrad. In 2004 I noticed a gap in the web hosting market and started my second company which is based in Bournemouth. At the time people thought I was mad, but it is now the largest free web hosting provider in the UK.
I’ve been invited to meet the Prime Minister as part of a campaign to get more businesses to employ disabled people. This is a cause I am passionate about as I believe they bring a lot of skills to any role they take on. I have taken this approach in my own businesses and I also advocate for flexible and remote working. I’m a DWP partner and I have won various business awards. Last year I released my first book which discusses my story and how these difficult experiences shaped me. It is called ‘I Can. I Will’ and it became a No.1 best-seller on Amazon within 24 hours of launch.”