Susan Gjolmesli is leaving Bellevue College after 20 years as the Director of the Disability Resources Center. Since she began in 1996, the center has gone through many changes. This being the case, the fight for disability rights and education is never over. “This work is very difficult work,” Gjolmesli explained.
“You’re always fighting for something, some ideal or someone, people’s rights or civil rights. The ideal. Fighting for social justice. It’s very arduous and meaningful,” shared Gjolmesli.
The Disability Resource Center provides help for 1,260 students with many different types of disabilities.
Gjolmesli has dealt with many of the same obstacles that her students have. “When you have a disability yourself, you live it, you’re fighting for your own kind of personal interests, and vetted interests, and your own personal rights, and your own personal life,” explained Gjolmesli.
She graduated from Gonzaga University without having any accommodations. At that time there was no law to ensure her personal rights as a student. Although she was “told so many times ‘no you can’t, no you can’t’ because of my blindness,” she continuously proved that she wouldn’t let it stop her from achieving anything she set her mind to.
Before taking her position at BC, she was an activist for disability rights movements. When the American Disabilities Act passed, she was on the forefront of training for corporations and large organizations to ensure that they were compliant with the new requirements.
Gjolmesli hopes students to keep in mind that “disability isn’t a curse, it’s just another way of being in the world. And they should not be shamed, or be ashamed of having something that’s just another part of diversity. I really believe that.”
If she could change or add anything to the DRC at Bellevue College, she would put a bigger emphasis on the culture and history of the disability community. Many other marginalized groups have affinity clubs and even courses regarding their history, where there are not any of these things for people with disabilities.
Long-time colleague and Dean of the Social Science Division Virginia Bridwell said Gjolmesli has “planted so many seeds of deeper sensitivity on campus” in her time at Bellevue College. She even helped Bridwell get some perspective with a student she was having trouble finding accommodations for by showing her how to look at the course from the student’s perspective. “She does not gloss over anybody’s short sightedness when it comes to really being aware and reaching out to disabled students. She absolutely has a zero tolerance for that,” said Bridwell.
As she leaves the DRC, Assistant Director AJ Duxbury said, “Susan leaves a legacy of helping the BC community understand disability and fighting for equality for people with disabilities.” As she goes on to her new ventures, “she leaves the BC DRC in a wonderful place of being known throughout Bellevue and the great Seattle area as the office to go to for the best support, for the best staff, for the best environment,” Duxbury said. “I’m sad to lose her guidance and leadership in person, but now that will carry on in spirit. I also have no doubt in my mind that though Susan is retiring, she is going to continue doing great disability work in less formal outlets.”
Aside from writing and traveling, “I am looking forward to regaining some strength and stamina, and getting time with my husband and my dogs, and building some pretty radically intense gardens,” said Gjolmesli of her plans after retiring.