Swenson brings background to office

Robin Huiras

Susan Swenson’s passion for developmental disability programs began 15 years ago with the birth of her son Charlie, who has muscular dystrophy.
“Because I love my son I’m in this field,” Swenson said. “Nothing prepared me for having a son with disabilities, and more than anything in life it is the accidents that push you.”
This experience has readied Swenson for an appointment at the White House. As the new commissioner for the Administration on Developmental Disabilities, the former University education specialist collaborates with administrators of more than 60 developmental disability programs nationwide.
Swenson’s tenure at the White House began this month and lasts through the Clinton administration.
The disability administration, part of the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, aims to connect governments, communities and the private sector to help the disabled reach their maximum potential.
“We are reinventing government programs and bringing in expertise to get the programs to be as absolutely effective as they can be,” Swenson said.
In addition to raising a son with muscular dystrophy, Swenson has a wealth of professional experience working with disabled persons in her former job in the Institute on Community Integration in the College of Education and Human Development.
David Johnson, an associate professor in the institute, said Swenson made contributions as a friend and volunteer at the institute for many years. The institute helps integrate disabled individuals into schools, work and society.
In 1996 Swenson received the Kennedy Fellow appointment. The first parent ever to be appointed, she worked in the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation of the U.S. Senate Labor Subcommittee on Disability Policy.
The Kennedy Fellowship gave Swenson the opportunity to work with disability legislation in the Senate, as well as the opportunity to work with the people who nominated her for the White House appointment, she said.
Swenson returned to the institute after her fellowship.
“At the University I wanted to make sure all of the wonderful programs in place worked together to be as effective as possible,” Swenson said.
Johnson said Swenson’s insight as a parent of a child with disabilities and someone who understands the importance of people with disabilities was highly valued by her co-workers.
Swenson received her master’s degree in management from the Carlson School of Management before volunteering at the institute.
Swenson has also worked for the Minnesota Heart and Lung Institute and the Governor’s Planning Council on Developmental Disabilities.
“Sue is a highly committed individual who has a deep compassion for improving the community experience and lives of individuals with disabilities,” Johnson said.