Dog, in Miniature Cap and Gown, Will Accompany Graduate During May
20 Final Exercises
Public Reminder of Needs Of Those Who Are Visually Impaired
May 7, 2001--
In an odd way, Mazen Basrawis life reflects the double major
hes crafted for himself at the University of Virginia. 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.
blind since birth with a rare congenital glaucoma, Basrawi experienced
difficulty finding classrooms in older University buildings because
there are no Braille markings. As a member of the Universitys
Committee on Disability and Access, he was determined that rooms
on the Lawn should have Braille markings to indicate numbers. "Before
I came here, I said, youve got to start somewhere; lets
put Braille on the Lawn."
discovered that although University buildings built since 1990 have
Braille room numbers, in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities
Act, there is a long list of accessibility needs the University
has identified to complete. Placing Braille on Lawn rooms was one
of scores of such projects.
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 3/8-inch black plastic strips with the room
numbers will remain after this years Lawn residents leave.
"Having the Braille numbers permanently on the doors is a public
sign that the University cares about making its facilities accessible,"
to achieve such a visible reminder of a disability would have been
unthinkable to Basrawi during his early high school years. 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."
was hard dealing with the loss of his limited sight. "I didnt
want to label myself blind; I would say I was visually impaired.
I wouldnt carry a cane and avoided the physical appearance
of being blind by wearing sun glasses," he recalled.
parents divorce and a grandmothers diagnosis of cancer
added to the stress of this period. His grades slumped as he battled
during the summer before his junior year he saw a therapist and
gradually 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, and 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.
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 plans to attend law
school, where he will combine his interests in political and social
thought with environmental science.
notes with pride his work with the Jefferson Literary and Debating
Society, another student organization he joined his first year.
As chairman of its Pen and Ink committee, he started a major fundraising
effort and created Style and Content, a magazine showcasing original
works by Jefferson Society members. As president, he helped reform
the organizations constitution and encouraged more debates.
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, the son of Maha Orkubi in Jeddah, Saudi
Arabia, and Mohammed Basrawi in Beirut, Lebanon.
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
in Arabic, Basrawi is also proud of starting MAJIC, the Muslim and
Jewish Interfaith Coalition, which brought students of different
graduate from U.Va. with "a distinguished, but not stellar
grade-point average. As someone with a disability, I believe if
you expect equal treatment from professors, you are expected to
show equal work. I tend to procrastinate too much."
has persevered successfully through his studies with help from the
Learning Needs and Evaluation Center, which provided texts on tape
and assisted in finding readers. His computer scans texts and converts
them into speech, allowing him to read the material and highlight
important passages the same way a sighted person would.
he confesses to being "a cat person," Basrawi concedes
that his guide dog Regan has been a big help to him at U.Va. When
Basrawi holds up Regans harness, the dog dives into it and
takes his responsibilities seriously. Regan has memorized routes
that Basrawi takes regularly, freeing him from giving the dog his
usual "left" or "right" commands.
four years at U.Va., including his year on the Lawn, Regan has made
many friends. He became the Brown College mascot for three years,
and students would often take him for a walk or a talk. "Hes
a good listener," Basrawi says with a smile.
does not think Regans work should go unrewarded. "Im
going to insist that he get some kind of diploma because hes
gone to every class Ive been to. I have to get him a cap and
gown for graduation."
Ida Lee Wootten, (804) 924-6857