Susan M. Daniels (1948-2011)
An extraordinary longtime national and international disability rights advocate, Dr. Daniels' many accomplishments on behalf of people with disabilities include, while Deputy Commissioner for Disability and Income Security Programs of the Social Security Administration (SSA), laying the foundation for the landmark Ticket to Work and Work Incentive Improvement Act. (1999) According to people who know and have worked with her, everything that she has done throughout her life has been with the goal of improving the lives of people with disabilities. She was also one of the three founding members of the National Association for Benefits and Work Incentives Practitioners.
Dr. Daniels was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and contracted polio at six months of age. Though she spent much of her young life in rehabilitation institutes and hospitals, her parents strived for her full independence, also ensuring that she attended a mainstream school. She went on to graduate summa cum laude from Marquette University (before campuses were accessible), and received her Masters of Psychology from Mississippi State University and her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of North Carolina.
As Chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Counseling at the Louisiana State University Medical Center, early in her career, Dr. Daniels developed a program to train individuals working with people with intellectual disabilities in community-based settings, which served as a core element in that state's deinstitutionalization efforts. During this same period, she wrote extensively, lectured internationally on disability issues, served as Board Chair of the Louisiana Protection and Advocacy Agency, and co-authored Who Cares: A Handbook on Sexuality and People with Disabilities, the first book ever published in the U.S. on disability and sexuality.
Dr. Daniels went on to hold a number of senior Federal positions, including Associate Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration in the U.S. Department of Education and Associate Commissioner of the Administration on Developmental Disabilities in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In the latter position, she initiated the Home of Your Own (HOYO) program to assist people with disabilities in becoming homeowners and also supported a national Home of Your Own technical assistance center to expand home ownership opportunities for people with disabilities to other states. Home of Your Own networks have since expanded to 27 states.
Perhaps Dr. Daniels' greatest accomplishment is the Ticket to Work and Work Incentive Improvement Act (TWWIIA). As Deputy Commissioner for Disability and Income Security Programs of SSA, where she directed programs that serve more than 11 million people with disabilities, she worked tirelessly to lay the groundwork for TWWIIA. This groundbreaking legislation creates employment incentives for people with disabilities and removes the systemic barriers that have placed too many of this country's citizens with disabilities in the position of having to choose between health insurance coverage and work. Dr. Daniels' disability-rights advocacy was also international. She has spoken about disability policy at international conferences and research forums in Africa, Europe, and Asia; served as President of the US Council of International Rehabilitation and served as Rehabilitation International's Deputy Vice President for North America; and in 1998, orchestrated efforts to convene the International Women with Disabilities Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C. Also in 1998, she was the recipient of a citation by Congress and was honored to be a semifinalist in the 1998 Good Housekeeping Award for Women in Government program. In 2004 she received the Henry B. Betts Award for life long leadership in the disability arena from the Prince Charitable Trusts and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
As a result of her lifetime of achievement, her handprint on the lives of individuals with disabilities, their supporters and their advocates will never be forgotten. For her passion, leadership, laughter, and guidance we will be eternally grateful.
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