Disabled Kenan-Flagler Grad Leaves Mark

Joe Brown at the football (soccer) field in Dubai. Courtesy photo

Joe Brown at the football (soccer) field in Dubai. Courtesy photo


But not all the information was readily available online, so there were a few hiccups. When he arrived in Dubai, the accessible Dubai Taxi they had rented was too small for his wheelchair. Luckily, they were able to get a larger one at the airport.

Another time, Brown went out to eat in Dubai with five friends. It was more of a challenge than he was anticipating. There were a lot of sidewalk curbs he couldn’t get over. Each time he approched one, his friends would each take a corner of the chair and lift it up. The chair and Brown together weigh about 640 lbs.

“ADA laws in the U.S. were put into effect in 1990, so as long as I can remember, curb cuts have always been there,” he says. “However, I am glad some of my classmates were able to see some of my accessibility challenges.”

But in at least one case, his difficulty getting around resulted in something wonderful. The class was going to visit the Dubai Aluminum Company, which would be difficult for Brown to navigate in his chair. So instead, he visited a professional sports stadium, Al Maktoum Stadium, since he hopes to go into the sports industry.

He, his Dubai tour guide, and one of the Kenan-Flagler study abroad advisers were able to speak with the deputy of marketing and investments management for the Al Nasr football (soccer) team. Brown says he loved getting to see the differences and similarities between U.S. and UAE sports.

Joe Brown climbs the Bell Tower, with his classmate's help. Courtesy photo

Joe Brown climbs the Bell Tower, with his classmate’s help. Courtesy photo


When Brown returned from the study abroad trip, it was time to graduate. Millar says after everything, Brown’s graduation was a really special moment.

“Having Joe in class taught all of us many valuable lessons – to be more effective listeners, to be patient with each other, to be thoughtful and appreciative for each other, and to celebrate and find joy and happiness in each day,” Professor Didow says. “In many respects, we learned much more from Joe than he did from us.”

But there was one more thing to do. Climbing the bell tower is a UNC graduation tradition. It’s extremely hot in May, and there are hundreds of stairs. Brown wanted to do the climb, and a fellow business school student, Nathan Staub, who had gone with Brown to Dubai, offered to help. He carried Brown all the way up 128 steps to the top.

On graduation day, Brown wanted the ceremony to run as normally as possible. He didn’t want to graduate first, and he didn’t want there to be a fuss over him. There was a ramp at the back of the stage, and when his name was called, he used his chair’s standing feature, and wheeled across the stage.

“At first, you could hear a pin drop as the chair was rising. But as it started moving across the stage, there was a standing ovation – every single student, faculty, and parent,” Millar says.

Since then, Brown has been participating in a mentorship program through the U.S. Business Leadership Network, in partnership with Lowe’s. He’s paired with a mentor who is helping him understand how to search for jobs, and how to work with a disability. He hopes to work in sports business someday.