Overcoming Disabilities Stories: Brad Pickering-Dunn

We are feeling ultra-inspired by Brad’s journey as a person who is blind. You don’t read overcoming disabilities stories like this often! Brad’s highs and lows remind us why we work so hard to provide exceptional, cost-free programming to individuals with disabilities.

Read on to learn more about Brad’s epic life adventures!


Hi, I am Brad.

I am a visually impaired software developer living in London. Despite having less than 10% vision left, I have not let it stop me from living an active and adventurous life.

I lost my vision at the age of 6, during my first year at school.  At the time in South Africa, Stargaarts disease was not a known eye condition and was not able to be diagnosed.  My parents were told there was nothing wrong with me and that I was attention seeking. “Ignore it and he’ll grow out of it!” 

This was the first real barrier I faced in my life and I had to find a way to overcome it—a task far easier said than done. To be honest, I never understood my condition… however, I refused to allow it to conquer, break, or overcome me.

brad pickering dunn karate no barriers

In the beginning, there was adversity

I had to find ways of coping and getting through mainstream school with little to no assistance. My condition was finally diagnosed when I was 12—no fewer than twelve ophthalmic specialists later!

At that time in South Africa, if you had a disability, you went to a school that catered to that disability. That was all there was to it. I was obliged to leave the school where I had made friends in Cape Town to go to a boarding school 150 kms away in a small rural town, where English was not the spoken language.

In the time spent in school in Cape Town, I had been encouraged by teachers who were unaware of my disability, to do better, try harder, not to give up, and strive to achieve. As frustrating as it was, not understanding why I couldn’t perform as well as other kids, plus the constant battles I faced everyday, ultimately bred in me a tenacity that I still carry today. 

For every challenge there is a solution; it may take many bruises to find, but it is there.

After 18 months at the School for the Blind, a lot of the adversity I had faced in regular school had been removed. I was among people with similar conditions; I had books in large print, and I didn’t have to make teachers aware that I couldn’t see. On the face of it, these may all seem like good things. However, there were other higher prices to pay.

The level of education at this school was below the national average, and certainly not at the level I had been used to at mainstream school. When I raised this concern one day in class, I was told by the teacher that I didn’t need the same level of education as “normal kids” and that I wouldn’t be able to go to university or get a “normal” job, anyway. I should set my sights much lower and be content as a basket weaver or braille translator.

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I refused to give up my dreams and chose to leave the school. It took some time, but I finally managed to re-join my original school back in Cape Town. Many of my classmates at the school for the blind weren’t so lucky. I have never been in a place since that is so bereft of hope or aspiration. 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.

Achievements

I have had many adventures. I have run numerous half marathons, sailed in the Northern Sea, bungee jumped, skydived, and got my 2n KU in Jitsu (a martial art that originated from the Samurai). I also learned to rock climb. It was my love for rock climbing and hiking that inspired my friend and I to climb the highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro.

We decided to do a six-day trip following the Machame route. Kilimanjaro is not a technical climb, but rather a test of endurance. I say it was not a taxing climb, but the main problem is the acclimatization to the high altitude. 

brad pickering dunn summiting kili no barriers

The trip to the summit was the hardest for me. We began our ascent close to midnight, in howling winds and bitter cold. Physically I was fine, I thought I was fully acclimatized to the altitude and would summit with ease. At the 5000 meter mark, I went down like a ton of bricks. My heart rate soared and I had to stop every hundred meters.

Meet Trevor Hahn: A Blind Artist & Activist

As the sun rose, we reached Stella Point. The “summit” before the real summit. With mugs of hot chocolate (that were actually lukewarm), but no less welcome for that, we watched the sunrise.

Sitting on that rock, looking down the path we had trod, with the warmth of the hot chocolate spreading through my hands, I thought back to the road I had walked through my life that ultimately led to this moment. 

I thought of all the mountains I had climbed, although not physical, certainly steep and in most people’s minds, unassailable.

With a gargantuan effort, we left Stella Point and pushed on to the summit!. I look back on that trip with fondness. It marked not only a turning point in my life, but in the life of my friend, who went on to achieve his dream and build a future that many people dream of, but seldom have the courage to achieve.

Realizing my limitations

Of all the sports I have tried, kitesurfing presented my greatest challenge! 

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Kitesurfing is basically having a massively inflated kite linked to your waist by four very long nylon lines. You maneuver the kite into the “teeth” of the wind to generate power, all the while keeping a board linked to your feet while you cruise over the waves.

Considering I was unable to see the lines clearly when the kite was high in the sky or when the sun was extra bright, kitesurfing meant putting myself in danger. More so, I had a serious concern about putting the welfare of others at risk because of my vision.

brad pickering dunn wind surfing no barriers

Just over a year into my kitesurfing adventure, a terrible accident happened—I won’t go into the details, just know that I came very close to death. But what was worse? I put one of my friends in serious danger, too.

I made the painful decision of deflating my kite for the last time and selling my gear. I had to admit I had found my limitation. I still don’t see this as a defeat! 

I didn’t let my disability stop me from trying and finding my own limits, rather than listen to those who felt it necessary to impose their limitations on me.

 I didn’t give up on the idea of speeding over the water though. I recently tried my hand at windsurfing. This is still a dangerous sport, but it is far less dangerous to those around me, and I am actually able to see fast enough to avoid obstacles. It was my love for the water and windsurfing that caused me to found my website, Watercraft Watch.

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Parting words for the No Barriers Community

If I have to offer any advice to those who read this article it is this: a physical disability is not nearly as debilitating as the lack of aspiration, courage, or desire to overcome your own barriers and reach for your dreams.


Thank you, Brad, for sharing the ups and downs, ultimately culminating in one of the best overcoming disabilities stories that we’ve found to this day.

Do you have living with disabilities stories you’d like to share? Contact info@nobarriersusa.org

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March 5, 2020
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