It was February 1986, Derick was in his matric year, riding his motorbike through the streets of Pretoria when a taxi connected with him and he was knocked unconscious on impact, resulting in only two broken bones when he landed on the tarmac. However, he did suffer a traumatic brain injury. After being rushed to hospital with a 5% chance of surviving, followed by several months in a coma, Derick regained consciousness and with that began his slow, laborious journey back to health and happiness.
SA PROMO Magazine asked Derick about living with his disability and how he has remained positive.
How do you find the disability access in Pretoria?
When Pretoria was built, there wasn’t much consideration for people with disability (PWD). In order to change ‘currently unaffected people’s’ way of viewing PWD – because nobody knows what’s going to happen to them in the future – it will require a whole mindset change. It is changing, albeit agonisingly slowly!
All the new buildings have to make some provision for PWD, but one of the primary problems is a lack of transport for PWD! The readers of this article will verify that unless you have a car in Pretoria, you’re very much stuck. PWD are also seen by the criminals as soft targets because they can’t put upmuch resistance.
Any advice on how people should treat PWD?
Treat them as you would treat anybody. PWD have been through an experience that would lay most people low if they were faced by the same circumstances. In fact, the only requirement for anyone to be a PWD is to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
What do you love most about Pretoria?
Blue Bulls. In five years time I wish to… Have a Ph.D in Applied Ethics. I want to study a Masters degree next year through the University of Stellenbosch.
How do you remain so positive?
I was able to attach meaning to the situation in which I found myself. Both my late parents were amazing vicarious examples for me. My father was a political prisoner in Auschwitz during WW2 and after the war he was the vice manager of the Ritz Hotel in London and the chief inspector of the hotel board in SA. My mother drove my recovery in three ways:
1. She kept me motivated to continue on the recovery process during those very long periods when ‘nothing’ seemed to be happening!
2. As she was a music teacher, I used to ‘jive’ or ‘wriggle’ the physiotherapy exercises to the disco-beat.
3. She used to drive me to all the different therapies that she arranged, as one of the results of brain damage is an inability to initiate things.
What is your response to people saying you’re an inspiration?
In the words of Thomas Edison, ‘Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.’ The best explanation that I’ve found for my experience is that I was able to apply personal meaning to my experiences. If I can inspire somebody in the future to believe in themselves when their whole world caves in on them, my experience will be meaningful.