As CEO and co-founder of Mobility International USA (MIUSA), Susan Sygall is world-renowned for her work in disability rights, educational exchange programs and leadership development.
Growing up, Susan was drawn to the idea of working with people with disabilities, going as far as pursuing coursework related to the subject. While studying in Colorado at 18 years old, she became disabled herself, which further emboldened her to seek a career, infused with a renewed passion, determination and insight.
Fueled by her personal experiences, Susan began her work as an activist for disability rights while attending UC Berkeley. As a Rotary Scholarship recipient, Susan traveled to Australia. As she traveled through Australia and Southeast Asia, she realized two things: “People with disabilities need to be included in all types of international exchanges. Second, disabled people and their allies around the world are all part of a global family. There is a need for disabled people to share information or strategies about how to advance disability rights.”
When she returned, she received her Masters from the University of Oregon and co-founded Mobility International USA. Starting with a donation of $500, MIUSA has become an international organization.
Still headquartered in Eugene, MIUSA has expanded its reach across the globe with its mission “to empower people with disabilities to achieve their human rights through international exchange and international development.”
“We are so proud to be from Eugene. In my opinion, Eugene is one of the most accessible cities in the world. When people come here, they are amazed at what is possible and then they go home and make changes in their own country,” said Susan.
Last year, MIUSA celebrated its 35th anniversary with over 2,300 alumni from more than 135 countries having graduated from the leadership and disability rights programs. These include disabled and non-disabled participants who go back to their countries and train others. Their Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability (WILD), has trained 220 women in 83 countries.
“I hope we have had the honor of changing the lives of those with disabilities by sharing how we in the US got our rights, things like disabled kids in school and accessible transportation. We are also able to get so much insight into other cultures by hosting these groups and we feel like we have friends all around the world.”
As co-founder and speaker, Susan travels extensively. Having recently traveled to Stockholm, DC, New York, San Francisco, Miami and Sri Lanka, Susan has achieved “Million Miler” status on United.
Susan joined the DAC in 1986, within the first year of its opening. “I’m trying to make sure I stay in good enough shape that I can continue to travel.” Training with Darcie Hill has helped with her accountability. “I have to admit, I’m probably like a lot of people in that I don’t come to work out as often as I should. I would say, find a trainer or class that motivates you to show up. Once you’re here, it’s always great.”
Over her long tenure at the DAC, the building has been filled with memories. Her late mother, a world famous figure skater originally from Austria, spent many hours at the DAC. “People still come up to me and say, I remember your mom, and it means so much to me.”
Through the years, Susan has garnered numerous awards and recognition, including the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship Award, colloquially called the “Genius Grant.” Her memoir, No Ordinary Days, tells of her inspirational journey and pursuit to leave the world a better place.
“I’m just so grateful to be a part of such a fabulous place and have the honor of being the CEO of a non-profit with staff that does such great work. I never cease to be amazed at the power of friendship and information. It really feels like a global family of those with disabilities and allies, and the power that it has to change the world.”