When many people think of the word “inclusive,” they think of it in terms of race, gender, wealth and sexuality. Some people do not think of physical disabilities — Susan Sygall is trying to change that.
A wheelchair user since the age of 18, Sygall has been advocating for disability rights and inclusion for over 30 years. This Monday, Sygall will be giving a speech at the University of Portland, her first visit since receiving an honorary degree from the school in 2019.
Sygall will be speaking about her advocacy work, the need for disability inclusion and much more in her speech this Monday at 7:15 p.m. in the Brian Doyle Auditorium. More information and RSVP options can be found here.
Sygall has been an advocate for physical disabilities ever since she became a wheelchair user herself. Her work with various organizations and communities, as well as starting her own company, Mobility International USA (MIUSA), has led to Sygall receiving widespread recognition. She has received numerous awards and honors, including the President’s Award in 1995.
“When we talk about disabilities, that covers a very broad range,” Sygall said in a phone interview. “Intellectual disabilities, non-apparent disabilities, and more. It’s really important that people with all disabilities work together for a common cause.”
Ever since her visit to campus last year, Sygall has been eager to return.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s happening at the University of Portland,” Sygall said. “When I was there for my honorary degree, I was really impressed by hearing the students’ speeches and how people were really realizing that everyone’s role in this world is to make it a better place, and a more just place. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to maybe think of some projects and initiatives that we can do together to make sure the campus is inclusive of everyone.”
Director of the Dundon-Berchtold Institute for Moral Formation and Applied Ethics Dan McGinty believes Sygall coming to campus is a great opportunity for students to learn more about this area of advocacy.
“At this school, I love the emphasis we have on trying to have discussions and programs around diversity and equity, and one of the things that Susan reinforced for me is that physical mobility is one of the things we have to keep in mind when talking about inclusion,” McGinty said. “Susan is a social innovator, and our university needs to be thinking of more ways in which we can help individuals, families, and communities, just like she has.”
Sygall will be discussing issues that some students have not thought or even heard of, according to her, and her talk will aim to inform the UP community on this issue, and some of the decisions that go into this line of work.
“Susan is coming not only to just give a talk about her organization and her story,” McGinty said. “We have asked her to also speak about some of the ethical elements that have gone into her work. This includes the decision making that she and her group have been making to make sure they are pursuing the right path.”
Director of the Moreau Center for Service and Justice Laurie Laird has known Sygall personally ever since they worked together at Global Fund for Women, and believes that the UP community could learn a lot from Sygall.
“She was around campus for commencement last year, and I knew that I wanted her to come back so that we could learn from her experience, and learn how to grow in ways to be inclusive,” Laird said. “I think it’s important for us to think about how our community is inclusive of people with different abilities, and recognize that institutions need to be serving the needs of its people.”
Laird has found a role model in Sygall and hopes that the UP community can be impacted by Sygall in the same way that she has been.
“The fact that Susan has been able to travel the world and to never have the fact that she’s in a wheelchair be a barrier for her continues to be an inspiration to me,” Laird said. “Ever since I met her she’s been one of my heroes, so I’m just excited that others on campus will have a chance to meet her and hear from her.”
If anyone is more excited for Sygall’s visit to campus than Laird, it’s Sygall herself.
“I can’t wait to talk about diversity, equity, inclusion and really talk about some exciting things that are really happening in the world,” Sygall said. “I’m very, very excited to meet everybody and I hope I personally get to meet a lot of people in my short time there.”
Carlos Fuentes is a reporter for The Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.