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‘If you treat it like a big deal, it's going to be a big deal’

Visually impaired student shares his Miami experience

<p>Michael Molchan received his guide dog, Hawkins, as a present on his 18th birthday. </p>

Michael Molchan received his guide dog, Hawkins, as a present on his 18th birthday.

On his 18th birthday, Michael Molchan received a dog named Hawkins. While many people dream of getting dogs for their birthday, Hawkins is special. 

The highly-trained yellow lab is not just a welcome companion. Hawkins serves as Molchan’s guide dog, too. 

Molchan, a junior finance and business economics double major in the Farmer School of Business (FSB), is legally blind.

Molchan and Hawkins can be spotted around campus at Mock Trial practices, in FSB and in Armstrong Student Center while interning at the First Miami Student Credit Union.

When he was a child, Molchan’s sight began to deteriorate due to a genetically inherited disease known as Juvenile Macular Degeneration; he lost his vision at age nine. 

Before Molchan began his first semester on campus, he worked with a mobility counselor to learn how to navigate the campus. He also utilizes the limited vision that he has to remember landmarks that help him adapt to new environments faster.

“The downside to Miami is that most buildings look the same: red, brick, no more than three floors,” Molchan said. “One of the greatest challenges is finding a professor's office for the first time.”

Now that Molchan is in his junior year, he said that navigating campus is much easier. 

“I use [my] guide dog to walk routes to class, and once your guide is familiar with the routes, it becomes muscle memory,” he said.

Molchan’s housemate, Ian Langevin, said that people who don't personally know Molchan are often stunned that he has any impairment at all.

Langevin said that when Molchan orders food in a restaurant and asks the server to read part of the menu for him, servers are often surprised to find out Molchan is visually impaired; they don’t even notice.

In his daily life, Langevin said that Molchan is perfectly acclimated and that the only issues that he's seen him face are those surrounding his accommodations.

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Molchan, who maintains a 3.84 GPA, said that, out of the approximately 20 classes he has taken here at Miami, only three of them gave him trouble as far as getting the accommodations he needs. Some of the accommodations that Molchan requires are extended test times and teachers sending him notes about class content.

“I've had classes where I've requested accommodations, and they've just done stuff on the screen without sharing [it] with me … and I just kind of have to do projects and assignments, not knowing what was said in the lecture,” Molchan said.“I kind of have to fend for myself and I've had grades kind of tank in part due to that.”

Molchan said even when he experiences issues with his accommodations, he doesn't let it bother him too much.

“You're going to encounter people that you work with in the professional world that are going to just be mean. They're going to discount you [or] disregard you,” Molchan said. “ [So to] have some bad things arbitrarily happen to you isn't the worst thing in the world, as long as you can recover.”

After graduation, Molchan hopes to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) corporate finance firm in New York City where he currently holds an investment banking internship in mergers and acquisitions. 

“I like to think I got [the position] by having something to offer them that is unique to me,” Molchan said. “You want to be an interesting person.”

Some of Molchan’s achievements include holding second degree black belts in both karate and jiu jitsu. Molchan is also an Eagle Scout, the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouts. He considers achieving this title as one of his greatest accomplishments. 

Molchan said that when people see him thriving, they often have the mindset of, “not only did he accomplish something, but he's also blind!” 

This reaction does not necessarily bother Molchan, but it's never made much sense to him.

“If you treat it like a big deal, it's going to be a big deal,” Molchan said. “I'll be the first person to make a blind joke.”