|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Wednesday, June 9, 2004
Bakersfield Californian 6-9-04
For an almost completely blind graduate student, a university like Cal State Bakersfield is just the right size.
As Adiel Uzabakiriho walked between classroom buildings Tuesday with the help of someone guiding him by his arm he could easily point out which building was which.
"That's D-D-H," he said, gesturing toward Dorothy Donahoe Hall.
That building is where many of his classes are held -- so it was an easy one. But he knows what most of the buildings are without ever seeing any of them.
"I came here because the campus is small. I was able to memorize it. Those big campuses like San Diego are too much for me to manage," Uzabakiriho said.
When Uzabakiriho graduates this Saturday, school officials believe he will be the first visually impaired student to earn a master's degree from the university, said Patrick Choi, assistant director of disability services.
He is one of just five blind or visually impaired students currently enrolled.
The Rwandan moved to the United States in 1988, before he lost his eyesight, to study music. Two years later a civil war began in his homeland. He lost more than a dozen relatives in the war.
He had been studying music with plans of teaching at a Rwandan university. But the university was destroyed in the fighting.
With no life to return to in Africa he stayed in the United States and changed his undergraduate major to nursing, a more employable job, he said.
Then in 1995 he slowly began losing his eyesight. Uzabakiriho underwent seven surgeries including cornea transplants, but his eyes got worse.
By the end of 1997 he had lost almost all his eyesight. Uzabakiriho has only very slight peripheral vision in his right eye, allowing him to make out shapes and perceive light.
Since nurses must see, he changed his major again, to sociology. He graduated in 1999 with a bachelor's degree from Cal State San Bernardino.
His master's degree will be in social work and he'll start a Ph.D. program at Loma Linda University this summer.
He turns 40 in August and is planning on taking four years to complete his doctorate degree. He hopes to teach at a university after that.
"He's worked very hard," said Cal State's director of disability services, Janice Clausen. "He doesn't let the fact that he can't see be a barrier."
Technology is a big help.
Uzabakiriho uses audio books and has computer software capable of translating printed books into spoken words. He spends a lot of time scanning pages into his computer.
He writes his research papers with a computer program that can speak his typed words back to him, allowing him to proofread his work.
Friend Connie Manning will graduate with Uzabakiriho this weekend. They take many of the same classes together and she sometimes drives him home.
"He's just an amazing man," Manning said. "I think everyone is impressed with him. He is very thoughtful and kind. He never says a crass word about anyone. He has contributed to our learning so much."
Uzabakiriho said he has been inspired by other successful visually impaired people and hopes to himself inspire others. He said there is some chance with medical advancements that he will see again one day, but he won't count on it.
"My doctor always says not to give up hope," Uzabakiriho said.
"Whether or not I see again in the future, it doesn't make a difference.
I still have accomplished goals like anybody else. I just finished my
master's degree, like anybody else."
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