Susan M. Daniels: Her Life and Work

Susan M Daniels

 

 

Dr. Susan M. Daniels was Deputy Commissioner for Disability and Income Security Programs at the Social Security Administration. She was responsible for the direction and policy governing the Social Security retirement, survivors, and disability programs – Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI.) She led the policy and program management staff at SSA headquarters, Office of Hearings and Appeals, and a disability determination process in 54 state agencies with an administrative budget of more than $1 billion with over 11,000 employees. Dr. Daniels had over 20 years of experience in leadership positions in management and administration. She was a nationally recognized spokesperson and opinion leader on disability policy. In roles ranging from teacher to administrator, from consultant to citizen, from researcher to public speaker, she represented the true potential of people with disabilities and illuminated the barriers inhibiting their full independence, social integration and productive participation in American life.

                                               – National Forum on Careers in the Arts for People with Disabilities

 

Susan Marie Daniels was a co-founder of PolicyWorks, Inc. and remains the inspiration for its mission.  As a person with a disability who achieved enormous professional and personal success, Susan devoted her life to improving the lives of others with disabilities.  She had significant impact as a senior policy maker and as a mentor to hundreds of individuals.  Through PolicyWorks, her influence will continue to grow.

Susan’s Career

Susan was one of the few disability champions who has had a transforming effect on the quality of life for people with disabilities in the U.S. and around the world. Her professional life spanned academia, government, and private-sector consulting, and her contributions to the field are remarkable for their breadth and depth.  She was both a “policy wonk” and an activist and was as comfortable debating scholarly economists as organizing community stakeholders.

Early in her career, as Chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Counseling at the Louisiana State University Medical Center, Susan 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.

Susan’s growing reputation as an influential and articulate leader in the disability community led to invitations to serve in a series of senior Federal positions.  As Associate Commissioner for the Administration on Developmental Disabilities in the US Department of Health and Human Services, Susan initiated an innovative program called “Home of Your Own,” which helped individuals with disabilities to become homeowners and also supported a national Home of Your Own technical assistance center to expand home ownership opportunities in other states.

Perhaps Susan’s greatest accomplishment was the Ticket to Work and Work Incentive Improvement Act.  Appointed by President Clinton to serve as Deputy Commissioner for Disability and Income Security Programs at the Social Security Administration, where she directed programs that serve more than 11 million Americans with disabilities, Susan worked tirelessly to lay the groundwork for the legislation. The Ticket to Work Act created employment incentives and healthcare provisions for workers with disabilities and removed many of the systemic barriers that forced many individuals with disabilities to choose between health coverage and work.

Susan’s disability-rights advocacy spanned the globe and was honored at the highest levels. She spoke about disability policy at international conferences and research forums in Africa, Europe, and Asia; and served as President of the US Council of International Rehabilitation and as Rehabilitation International’s Deputy Vice President for North America.  In 1998, she 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. Among many other awards, Susan she received the 2004 Henry B. Betts Award for life long leadership in the disability arena.

After leaving the Social Security Administration, Susan continued to be active on  the national and international stage. As principal of Daniels & Associates (D&A), an international consulting firm, she led projects focused on public policy development and advocacy, disability and employment and organizational development. She advised the government of India on developing a social insurance program for people with disabilities and consulted with the New Zealand government on rehabilitation and social insurance.

As a founder and board member of PolicyWorks, she expanded the work of Daniels & Associates to the nonprofit arena.  Her contribution and legacy to the Ticket to Work Program will live on through the work of a team of experts she brought together to design, build and implement her conceptualizations of electronic tools to assist service providers and workers with disabilities. Another pillar of her legacy is the work D&A and PolicyWorks are achieving with college students and recent graduates on Social Security benefits, Susan’s commitment to these young professionals will be continued through the efforts of the organizations she founded and through the Mentorship Fund created in her name.

Susan: In Her Own Words

Susan Daniels speaking at NASI 2009 Social Security Academy for Interns Meeting (Part 1)

Susan Daniels speaking at NASI 2009 Social Security Academy for Interns Meeting (Part 2)

Susan Daniels speaking at the 2007 Kay Disability Policy Forum