Protesting in Beijing

Protesting in Beijing

More From Susan

In this video

Susan Sygall talks about the 1995 UN World Conference on Women in Beijing and the protest done by disabled women at the event because they couldn't get into the conference. Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright showed their support.

Screen Reader Q&A #3


Susan Sygall - "The Anniversary of My Accident"


In 1995 we all started hearing about the UN World Conference on women in Beijing. We got a grand 350 women with disabilities. And I remember, because it was August 29 because-- actually, it just happened-- it was the same day of the anniversary of my car accident. And supposedly there was a workshop specifically about disabled women. And some women went to attend their own workshop. And it was on the second floor. There was no elevator. And the disabled women started making a little protest right in front of the building, saying, we can't even get into our own workshop. However, the good thing was, there was lots of different tents in the NGO session. And the disabled women, we had our tent.



And Madeleine Albright, who was then Secretary of State, she came to the tent, which was a very big recognition. And Hillary Clinton gave her magic speech where women's rights are human rights. So when we think back to the Beijing conference, we say it was the worst of times but it was also the best of times. Because in our mind, it was the beginning of the international disabled women's movement.

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.