Jacob calls himself the Blind Biker which you will understand when reading the article. He has faced extreme adversity with great fortitude and is an inspiration to all of us, whether disabled or able bodied.
The article is reproduced from Imfama Magazine with both their and Jacob’s permission.
More than a Blind Biker…
Lindie van Zyl
I pondered for a long time on how I could capture the essence of an interesting, multi-facetted man that I was introduced to. Which box could I put him in for a clearer description? I soon realised though that 36 year old Jacob Kruger does not fit into any box. In fact, Jacob casually sums up his whole existence in four words: “I am just me.” He has been blind for just over four years now, but losing his sight never changed who he was. This is Jacob Kruger…
Getting Back on the Bike:
Let me start here…the accident. Jacob is a motorbike enthusiast and loves to drive around on his bike. In November 2005 he had a major accident with his bike when a motorist in the lane next to him, swerved into him. Jacob and his wife, who were both on the bike, were thrown off. He sustained serious injuries and was in a coma for almost a month, taking just over three months to become lucid again. The serious physical injuries resulted in his loss of sight. Sadly, Jacob’s wife was killed in the accident.
Doctors told Jacob that his brain moved around so much inside his scull during the accident that his optical nerve tore where it was attached to his brain – this caused his blindness.
He eventually left the hospital in March 2006, and started orientation and mobility training, which included getting used to walking around with a white cane, doing some cooking and so forth. The orientation and mobility training helped Jacob, however, the greatest enlightenment for him was finding out how to make use of technology without his sight, and getting back to using a computer. Since Jacob is a web developer and had basically lived on the internet since it became available in South Africa around 1996, re-learning how to use a computer was very important to him.
Raising Hell with the Hellrazors:
After his accident, Jacob did a Google search for ‘blind motorcyclist’ and came across a write-up about Billy Baxter, who was part of the UK army’s motorcycle stunt team before he became blind. Billy is now in the Guiness Book of Records for doing 180mph on a bike after losing his sight. Jacob found Billy to be very inspiring and wanted to get back on a bike himself, but just sitting at the back was never an option for him.
When Jacob recovered, he was back at work and back in the biking scene. He is a member of a bike club called the Hellrazors (named after the Ozzy Osbourne song). The club members support Jacob in many ways, including guiding him when he rides his bike.
Once a year, normally in November, the Hellrazors organise their own track day at the Phakisa raceway in Welkom, and this is where Jacob gets on his favourite motorbike (a Suzuki Bandit 1200 Streetfighter), puts on a radio headset, full leathers and a good helmet, and rides up and down the main straight with his friend giving him instructions via a cellular phone.
Jacob enjoys this so much that he says: “Although I have a dark visor on my helmet since I don’t need to let the light in, I reckon the 50 or so people watching me, cheering, shouting and taking photos must have known that I was smiling so broadly inside my helmet that it almost hurt my face.”
Jacob, who is an IT-fundi, designed the Hellrazors’ website (www.hellrazors.co.za), his own website (www.blindza.co.za) as well as some interesting pieces of programming for and about blind people.
Although he knows only basic braille (he only uses it for labelling things like pills, spices and food), Jacob has written his own talking computer software, including a braille reference feature which gives instructions on how to write letters in basic braille as you type them on the keyboard. He has also invented his own talking version of snakes and ladders for the computer – using the original board, along with sound effects and speech output. The idea behind the game, as explained by Jacob, is for it to be used even by sighted kids so that they can form an idea of how visually impaired people use computers.
Jacob started the first e-mail mailing list for ‘bikers’ in South Africa in 1997, called BikerZA. He has now also started such a list for visually impaired persons and anyone interested in supporting them, or even just for people who are interested in learning about their lifestyle. The link to the page for that mailing list is: www.freelists.org/list/blindza
Dog Tags and Tattoos:
Above all, Jacob is an excellent advocate for blind people. He is very approachable and carries the ‘signs of blindness’ with pride. As he puts it: “I wear leathers and have tattoos, so people are not afraid to ask me questions”.
True to his style, Jacob sports braille tattoos on his forearms, which consist of black raised ink dots. He is a firm believer in balance and therefore he has two words of equal length – one positive and one negative- on his arms. The left arm’s tattoo spells out the word “depression” and the right one balances it with “positivity”. He also wears a silver dog tag plate around his neck with his name brailed on it. Jacob uses his dog tag and tattoos to show people what braille looks like. I must say this is definitely more interesting than having braille explained on an alphabet card!
Jacob is also working on a set of instructions for newly blinded people. This will include who to contact, where to go for assistance and so forth. On this he added: “I refer people to Council as some people do not know about its existence.”
Motorcycle Gloves and a Dog called Inzamam:
Jacob, who lives in Kempton Park, is still designing websites, but also started a new job in October 2008, programming in a Windows environment. He adjusted to his new world quite fast. Jacob also told me that he uses his motorcycle gloves for cooking, since they’re thin enough to still be able to feel what he’s doing without really having to worry about getting burnt. Although this is very ingenious of him, I wouldn’t advise trying this at home!
A big black Labrador guide dog named after the great Pakistani cricket player – Inzimam ul Haq, joined Jacob in February 2009. Jacob and Inzamam are already getting along nicely.
On Playing ‘Happy Birthday’:
In his already busy life, Jacob still has time for hobbies! He says that he plays drums as a form of exercise as well as a way to vent his frustrations. Well, at least he’s thought of a melodious way to vent… Jacob also recently acquired a mouth organ which he carries around in his bike jacket. He feels that this is one instrument where being able to see or not, has no impact on your playing of the instrument. He is practising whenever he has time, and has already mastered playing Happy Birthday, although I’m sure a few more interesting songs will be added to his repertoire very soon!
Originally published in Imfama Magazine. The official magazine of the South African National Council for the Blind
PO Box 11149, Hatfield, Pretoria 0028
Web: www.sancb.org.za, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org