Inheriting Positivity

Inheriting Positivity

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In this video

Susan Sygall shares the accomplishments of her parents, their experiences pushing through WWII discrimination, and how their positivity gives her strength.

Screen Reader Q&A #6


Susan Sygall - "The Spirit of My Parents"


My dad was born in the border of Poland and Russia. And he did not finish high school, because of the World War II. But he self-taught himself nine different languages. So I think that my whole passion for working internationally came a lot from hearing him speak nine different languages. And my mom was from Austria-- from Vienna. My family's Jewish, and they both were forced to leave. And my mom, I'm happy to report, was the world champion figure skater. And she actually skated for Austria one day, and the next day was asked to leave the country.


My parents were such positive, optimistic people who both had amazing careers in their own right. And sometimes when people ask me, how-- you're so positive, and you're so determined. And I always think-- I definitely I think got it from the spirit of my parents.  

Susan's Biography

Response to failure Melt dark chocolate and eat it.

Three words to describe herself Loud, proud, passionate

Family history Sygall is a first generation American. Her father was born in Russia and, though he didn’t finish high school, he taught himself nine different languages. Her mother, a world champion figure skater, came from Austria.


Susan Sygall’s work has transformed international exchange and global development for people with disabilities. Sygall became a wheelchair rider after a car accident at age 18, while she was studying recreational therapy in college. When she studied abroad in Australia, Sygall noticed she was unusual: there were very few disabled people on her trip. She wanted to activate people around the world to advocate for themselves and get access to all activities and exchange programs. In 1981 she started Mobility International USA, a non-profit organization working to advance the rights of people with disabilities globally. Mobility International also focuses on empowering women through the Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability. Before Mobility International, Sygall co-founded the Berkeley Outreach Recreation Program at the University of California, Berkeley, focused on improving access to recreation and sports for people with disabilities.

In 1995, Sygall influenced the U.S. Congress to establish funds that created the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The Clearinghouse aims to increase the participation of people with disabilities in all types of travel.

Sygall has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, the Kellogg National Fellowship, and the Ashoka Fellowship for her dedicated advocacy for disability rights. In 1995, President Bill Clinton awarded her the President’s Award for her leadership in international exchange programs and global empowerment for people with disabilities.