Disabled Kenan-Flagler Grad Leaves Mark

Joe Brown in his upgraded wheelchair. Courtesy photo

Joe Brown in his upgraded wheelchair. Courtesy photo


But as Brown got into the swing of things at Kenan-Flagler, trouble struck again. After leaving a business class in the spring of his first year there, he crossed a street where a bus was waiting to turn. There was a group of people crossing, but because of his chair, he was out of the bus driver’s view.  When the other pedestrians scurried past, the bus started to turn and hit him.

Millar says she was in a meeting when word came that someone had been hit by a bus. When she arrived at the scene, she learned it was Brown and rushed to the hospital. Brown’s mother was there, and Millar learned that he was thrown out of his chair, and couldn’t break his fall, because he couldn’t use his arms very easily.

Brown needed stitches, and his wheelchair was damaged. He would need a new one. But it was more complicated than simply getting a replacement. Brown’s disability had progressed and he needed a new kind of chair – one that had a standing feature.

The bus’ insurance company gave him the money to replace the chair he already had. But getting the upgraded chair right then would cost over $8,000 more, and Brown didn’t know how he was going to do it.


That’s when his classmates got involved. Brown was in Professor Patricia Harms’ class on management and corporate communication. There were only 20 students in the class, so she says they were quite close.

The class period after Brown was hit, Harms says that all his classmates brought in handmade Get Well Soon cards for him. It was this act of kindness that inspired her.

She learned from Brown that he had a settlement for the accident, but that the money wouldn’t cover the type of wheelchair he needed. Searching for ways to help, she decided a student-driven fundraiser would be the best option.

Once she gained permission from Brown to share his story, she sent an email to his management and corporate communication classmates. Within a few hours, they had organized, and set up a GoFundMe campaign.

“Other than asking the students for help, the only other thing I did was send an email to the faculty and staff at Kenan-Flagler, and I shared Joe’s story and asked for their financial support. The response was remarkable,” she says.

The campaign quickly raised the money Brown needed, and he got the new standing wheelchair.


Joe Brown on GIE

Joe Brown during his study abroad trip in Dubai. Courtesy photo

In his second and last year at Kenan-Flagler, Brown decided he wanted to study abroad. He knew it would be complicated, but he went to the administration anyway to see if it was possible.

“I think, at first, there was a bit of trepidation. Can we make this happen? Are the programs able to handle a man in a wheelchair?” Millar says.

Kenen-Flagler study abroad programs usually go to places in India, China and South Africa that may not be wheelchair-friendly. But they chose a program that was going to a modern city, Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, and Millar says there were two athletes on the trip with him, who were able to help out.

But it was still a challenge, and Brown says he emerged with a renewed appreciation for the United State’s ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) laws.

He had to hire a PCA (patient care assistant) to travel with him. His mother lived with him on campus, but he says she didn’t want to go on the trip, so he needed to find someone else.

“It’s crucial to have someone going with me, so I’m glad that worked out,” he says. “Traveling, especially international travel, is very difficult in a wheelchair. There’s so much extra planning for every aspect.”

Among other things, Brown says he had to look up things like the weight of his wheelchair to make sure it could be transported by the plane. He had to be prepared for different electrical outlets so he could charge his chair, and he needed to plan transportation to various locations.

“KFBS had never had someone in a wheelchair go on a study abroad trip with them, and it was my first international trip, so it was a learning experience for everyone,” Brown says. “KFBS and UNC study abroad advisers had contacts on the ground in Dubai, and were able to help me with the extra planning involved.”