May 18-24, 2001
Back Issues
Waters' mission runs deep
Two graduates honored for their service to humanity
Student aids the homeless

Mellon winner redefines "Jim Crow" era

Pre-med student shares his passion for music
Fast-track grad driven to help his family
Student leads effort to install Braille on Lawn room doors
Creative recycling: Students convert crate into studio
Lawson lives richly
Can you go home again? Issues facing international students
Education delayed but not denied
Weaver finds election laws discriminatory
Quilter gets A+
Students to go abroad on Fulbright scholarships
Weddle will research Peruvian women
Graduate rich in lessons learned
Anthony defender of public good
Affinnih plays her cards strategically
After earning degree in two years, graduate going for two more
Student develops new sign language system
Student trio pushes for late-night joe

Student leads effort to install Braille on Lawn room doors

Mazen Basrawi
Stephanie Gross
Mazen Basrawi and his guide dog will both walk down the Lawn May 20 in full regalia.

By Ida Lee Wootten

Mazen Basrawi’s life reflects the double major he’s crafted for himself at the University. On the verge of earning a degree in environmental sciences and political and social thought, Basrawi has learned some political lessons while enhancing U.Va.’s environment for the visually impaired.

Legally blind since birth with a rare congenital form of glaucoma, Basrawi had difficulty finding classrooms in older University buildings because there are no Braille markings. As a member of the University’s Committee on Disability and Access, he was determined that rooms on the Lawn should have Braille markings to indicate numbers.

“Before I [moved to the Lawn], I said, ‘You’ve got to start somewhere; let’s put Braille on the Lawn.’”

University buildings constructed since 1990 have Braille room numbers, in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but there is a long list of accessibility needs the University has identified to complete. Marking Lawn rooms with Braille was one of scores of such projects.

So Basrawi literally took matters into his own hand; he used a handheld Braille label maker to put residents’ names and room numbers on each Lawn door. The 38-inch black plastic strips with the room numbers will remain after this year’s Lawn residents leave. “Having the Braille numbers permanently on the doors is a public sign that the University cares about making its facilities accessible,” he said.

His parents, originally from Saudi Arabia, moved to Northern Virginia from Ohio when Basrawi was 11. He underwent three cornea transplants in his left eye as doctors tried to improve his limited vision. But in his freshman year at Thomas Jefferson High School, the cornea failed and he realized his sight would permanently resemble “looking through a foggy window.”

It was hard dealing with the loss of his limited sight.

“I didn’t want to label myself blind; I would say I was ‘visually impaired.’ I wouldn’t carry a cane and avoided the physical appearance of being blind by wearing sun glasses,” he recalled.

His parents’ divorce and a grandmother’s cancer diagnosis added to the stress of this period. His grades slumped as he battled depression.

However, the summer before his junior year, he saw a therapist and came to terms with the new realities in his life. His attitude and grades improved. In the summer before entering U.Va., he went to Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, Calif., to learn how to manage a guide dog. In the fall of 1997, he and his dog Regan, a Labrador retriever, entered U.Va., where they lived in Brown College for three years.

Basrawi has been active in the University Judiciary Committee, serving as a first-year judge and as a counselor for three years. His role as advocate for the parties that bring cases to UJC has helped solidify his desire to be a lawyer. After graduation he will attend law school, combining his interests in political and social thought with environmental science.

Basrawi joined the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society in his first year. As chair of its Pen and Ink committee, he raised funds and created Style and Content, a magazine showcasing original works by Jefferson Society members. As president, he helped reform the organization’s constitution and encouraged more debates.

“My experience with the Jefferson Society has given me a lot of hope that someone with a disability can be respected and seen as an able leader,” said Basrawi.

“Mazen’s outlook on life has opened my eyes to the world around me,” said fourth-year student Okan Yetik. “His unparalleled caring nature, his deep-rooted intelligence and his passion for justice set him aside from anyone I’ve come across. Mazen sees more in this world than I ever will and his vision is clearer than mine can ever be.”

Fluent in Arabic, Basrawi also started MAJIC, the Muslim and Jewish Interfaith Coalition, to bring together students of different backgrounds.

Basrawi concedes that his guide dog Regan has been a big help. Regan has made many friends, becoming the Brown College mascot for three years and students would often take him for a walk.

Basrawi does not think Regan’s work should go unrewarded.

“I’m going to insist that he get some kind of diploma because he’s gone to every class I’ve been to. I have to get him a cap and gown for graduation.”



© Copyright 2001 by the Rector and Visitors
of the University of Virginia

UVa Home Page UVa Events Calendar Top News UVa Home Page