UofL 2024 spring graduate advocates for inclusivity of those with disabilities and people of color

Gabrielle Runyon smiles with her graduation stool wrapped around her neck.
UofL 2024 graduate Gabrielle Runyon. UofL Photo.

As Gabrielle Runyon, a graduating psychology major with a minor in music, goes across the stage this spring, she carries not just a diploma but a powerful message: resilience.

Diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2 at just 1 year old, she defied the odds against her.

“The doctor told my parents that I would be lucky if I made it past the age of 2,” Runyon said.

Throughout her journey, Runyon encountered assumptions from individuals including doctors and teachers who couldn’t see beyond perceived limitations. These discrimination challenges fueled advocacy efforts for herself and others with disabilities.

In high school, she served as a state Ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, advocating for bills benefiting the neuromuscular community.

Runyon never envisioned herself advocating at a large scale because of her shyness. Reflecting, Runyon said, “It just kind of happened naturally because I have been advocating for myself for so long.”

After deciding to come to UofL for its affordability, Runyon continued to find ways to help her community. 

In October 2023, Runyon was a part of founding Disabled Cards United (DCU.) DCU is a coalition of disabled students and their allies which works to foster a safe and inclusive environment for disabled students, to promote student led advocacy, and to provide a space for disabled students to build solidarity.

“It’s centered on intersectionality around disability and it’s one of the places I’ve felt is most inclusive and at home just because of the acceptance I’ve had,” Runyon said.

Recognized as the Disability Resource Center student of the year, Runyon plans to continue her advocacy after graduation. She aspires to be a counselor, driven by a passion to address the lack of understanding in the mental health field, particularly for people of color and those with disabilities.

Transitioning her sophomore year from a music therapy major to psychology, Runyon’s natural inclination towards listening and understanding people guides her path. She now sees her shyness as a strength. 

“It comes naturally to me,” Runyon said. “It’s because I am shy I do so well. I listen more. And I think about what questions to ask. I’m interested in learning more about people and picking their brain.”

As she prepares to participate in UofL’s commencement on May 11, Runyon acknowledges her family as her greatest support.

“My family is my backbone, and I would not be where I am today without them,” Runyon said.

Source: First for herself, now for others (UofL News, May 7, 2024)