BC's Susan Gjolmesli to be honored for empowering persons with disabilities


Susan Gjolmesli has been selected to receive a Governor’s Trophy in Memory of Carolyn Blair Brown from the Washington State Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment (GCDE).

The award is given to an individual who has significantly enhanced the empowerment of persons with disabilities in the community and workforce. Gjolmesli will be honored in a ceremony in Olympia on Jan. 23 and also by Bellevue College on Jan. 24 with a reception and open house on campus.

The BC event will be from 2:30-4:30 p.m. in the Bellevue College Garden Room – Building C, Room 130 on the main campus, 3000 Landerholm Circle SE in Bellevue

The trophy is part of the Governor’s Employer Awards Program, which honors employers who have demonstrated exemplary practices to recruit, retain and promote individuals with disabilities. While most awards honor an employer, the Governor’s Trophy is presented to an individual.

The committee selected Gjolmesli to receive the award because of her reputation as an advocate who can articulate current research and represent the disability community with grace and poise.

“Susan has simply refused to see herself or any of the people for whom she advocates as being unqualified to live a full life," said Michael McDermott, a friend and colleague. "It has been this single-minded focus on what each human being has to offer that has made her one of the premier advocates for persons living with differences in the state of Washington.”

Gjolmesli has been a member of the Advisory Council for the Department of Services for the Blind (1986-1990-appointed by Gov. Booth Gardner), a member of the GCDE Employment and Training subcommittee (1988-1996), a strategist and board member of Access Washington (1992-1996), a member of the ADA Compliance Review Board (appointed by Seattle mayor Norm Rice in 1993), 17 years as a leader within the Washington Association of Professional Educators in Disability, and a long-time Director of the Disability Resource Center at Bellevue College.

She was named Nordstrom’s “Community Leader of the Year” in 1993, and was designated as a “Living Treasure” at Bellevue College in 2009 for her work involving the retention of students living with disabilities as a diversity issue.

Gjolmesli also has received national attention for an project called the Autism Spectrum Navigators Program, which she started as a pilot and nurtured into a support system for students at Bellevue College who are on the Autism spectrum.

Gjolmesli was born with retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary, degenerative eye disorder. She had limited sight that progressively worsened throughout life. About 10 years ago, she lost the last of her residual sight following a severe bout of influenza.

“If I am comfortable being blind, which I am, people will want to know those other aspects of my talents, abilities and personality,” Gjolmesli said. "The students I mentor get that. It helps them understand and feel proud and see that they have talents, gifts and abilities which are a valued part of diversity and should be included in all things diverse and good in life."

Gjolmesli is director of the Disability Resource Center at Bellevue College, a position she’s held for the past 18 years.

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