Hi, I am Brad, and I am a visually impaired software developer and adventurer.
I was diagnosed with Stargardt Disease (a form of macular degeneration) at the age of twelve, but in fact, lost my vision when I was six.
Living in South Africa, the technology was not available to diagnose my eye condition or detect that in fact there was anything wrong. All they had was the say-so of a six year old boy. As a result, my parents were told I was an attention seeker and that they should just ignore me – I would grow out of it.
Needless to say, this was a hard time in my life but it helped to shape my tenacity and grit to push through and defeat the odds.
I have embarked on many adventures in my life that a lot of people thought were beyond my capabilities.
I was the youngest person to ever complete the Argus Cycle Tour (105 km cycle race in Cape Town, South Africa) when I was four when I rode a specially modified tandem bike with my father. I have skydived, bungee jumped, played golf with a 12 handicap, played rugby, and competed in the Isle of Man pool and snooker championships.
The things that afforded me the most challenge and joy were Kite-surfing, Windsurfing, and an expedition to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with my friend Mark in 2013.
Although I have many stories I will limit this article to my progression through the ranks of Jitsu (a Japanese based martial art handed down from the Samurai). This best describes some of the difficulties I have encountered as a result of my disability and how I beat the odds to overcome them.
Please don’t misunderstand my intentions here. I am not writing this to brag, but rather to illustrate that just because you can’t see, doesn’t mean you can’t persevere until you ultimately succeed.
There is no way I would be where I am today without the help of some very special people, some of whom I met within my first week of University at the Chester Campus, University of Liverpool England.
I joined the university Jitsu club within my first week and met James, Robbert, and Bob. (Jitsu, not to be confused with Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, if you are keen to learn more the foundation website is the place to go.)
I had trained in karate as a boy, but nothing prepared me for the full contact way of training that Jitsu afforded. The first rule of Jitsu is, “get out of the way!” This, however, is harder said than done if you can’t see the punch coming towards you!
My friends helped me to figure out a way of determining if a straight punch or roundhouse was headed my way. At this time, I was wearing glasses and after going to the optometrist seven times in two weeks to have them repaired, I was advised to switch to contact lenses.
Thanks to the support of my classmates, and patience from my Sensei , I moved quickly through the ranks, achieving my green belt within nine months and competed at the Jitsu Nationals.
During the next semester, I won silver at the Jitsu nationals and was also awarded my purple belt. I was then told that now I was a higher grade, my real Jitsu training would begin. Boy were they right! I was invited to join the higher grade sessions where Dan’s trained. The techniques I had developed to interpret punches were not adequate, especially when a well-trained blackbelt is raining blows down on you.
My girlfriend at the time suggested that perhaps it was time to find another hobby as she felt I had reached the limit of my potential. This type of “advice”, “way of thinking”, or whatever you want to call it, above all things makes me angry!
I was told the exact same thing when I attended the school for the blind and partially sighted in South Africa. It was explained, quite patronizingly, how I had to accept the fact that I was not as good as other, “normally sighted” students, and would not be able to attend university or work in a normal job.
Rather than accept the limitations imposed upon me by others, I fought to prove them wrong! Within three months of being given this “advice”, I had left the school and re-joined mainstream kids. Three university degrees later, including a Master’s degree in Computer Science, I look back at my time at the “blind” school with a mixture of pity and scorn.
Many of the other kids who attended the school accepted the sentence imposed upon them by the teachers. They resigned themselves to live as basket weavers or brail typists. I have never been in a place consumed by so much hopelessness.
As well-intentioned as my girlfriend’s words were, they had the same effect on me as the teachers in that school. It took many bruises but eventually, I found a way to improve myself and hold my own against the higher grades and Dan’s.
My Jitsu career continued throughout my time at University and up to my teaching grade. By the time I decided to go back to South Africa to complete the research for my Master’s degree, I was teaching a class of twenty students.
Ever since I was a child, I have rebelled against the fact I can’t see and especially those who say I can’t do BECAUSE I can’t see. I have seen the effects of what happens when people accept limitations placed on them by those who claim to know best. I have listened as the excitement, hope and joy leave them.
I don’t mean to suggest that there are no limitations. I have faced many challenges and bumped my head, been turned back and met my match on many occasions. There are some things I simply can’t do.
What I am saying is. Find these limitations for yourselves. There is no shame in defeat. No reason why you should feel less than others because you are prohibited by your disability. But… make the choice for yourself, don’t let your disability or those who claim to know your limitations make the choice for you.
About the Author:
I am Brad, founder of https://www.watercraftwatch.com/
I am a visually impaired adventurer.
It’s my love for all things sport and that inspired me to start this website.
Feel free to stop by and say hey.