UC Blue Logo
What are you looking for?

Staff Snapshot: Diane Ngo, artist and disability advocate

Share This Article


Diane Ngo is a program manager in the Department of Surgery at UCSF. She is also a past member of the UCSF Committee on Disability Inclusion who is passionate about increasing awareness about the impacts and experiences of living with disabilities.

Diane has co-led and participated in two campus-wide campaigns at UCSF that are focused on physical and mental disabilities — Faces of Ability Project–In Their Own Words (2018) and Faces of Ability Part II–Mental Health Resilience (2020). The campaigns work to raise awareness and support of people living with disabilities in the UCSF community by giving staff, faculty and students an opportunity to share their personal experiences. The projects reflect Diane’s belief that one of the best ways to support colleagues with disabilities is by getting to know them as individuals and acknowledging their valuable contributions.

While the Mental Health Resilience campaign launched last fall, Diane believes that its relevance and impact have only increased as the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath — losses of life, extended isolation and increased stress — endure. Her personal history involves surpassing many significant challenges (her family fled Vietnam on a harrowing boat journey and came to the United States as refugees via Hong Kong and the Philippines), but she sees the pandemic as a uniquely difficult time for herself and those around her. “We really all need to check in on our mental health and check in with each other. The times that we’re living in are more challenging than ever,” Diane says. “This is the time, for those of us who are able, to do more to help others and to let them know that they are not alone.”

Since launching the series, program leaders throughout UCSF have reached out to her to ask for materials to support staff, and Zoom presentations. “There’s been a really positive response,” she says. “We’ve been really intentional about reaching out to our community and offering the series as a resource.”

In addition to her advocacy at UCSF, Diane participates in the Joni and Friends Wheels for the World ministry, a Christian program that donates wheelchairs and Bibles to people impacted by disability in economically disadvantaged countries. Wheels for the World is unique in that it sources used chairs and partners with prisons to give inmates an opportunity to give back by refurbishing them. Volunteers then personally deliver the chairs around the world, traveling with physical and occupational therapists who help recipients learn to use them. Diane has attended five outreaches to Vietnam, Thailand and Ghana. Working through a translator, she interviews recipients and shares their stories.

As she explained in her first Faces of Ability profile, Diane is a polio survivor and gets around using a knee, ankle, and foot orthotic. Her experience of living with a physical disability gives her a deep sense of connection to the people she serves. “Their stories of resilience are amazing and make me really appreciate what I have here,” she says. “If I hadn’t left Vietnam, I wouldn’t be as educated as I am now. I don’t know if I would have been able to work. Physical disabilities are seen as a total weakness and curse in many countries. There’s a lot of work that we still need to do around awareness; in the meantime, our goal is to share hope.”

In closing, Diane shares some advice for her colleagues: “If you want to know what someone else is experiencing, ask them about their experiences. And, make a friend who doesn’t look like you.” (Sound familiar? An enthusiastic UCLA alumna, Diane gives a hat tip for this phrase to basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who recently countered anti-Asian bias by creating a T-shirt with these words in honor of his longtime friend Bruce Lee.)

Meet Diane

Name: Diane Ngo

Title: Program Manager

Department/Unit: Department of Surgery

Location: UCSF

When did you start working for UC? January 2003 — I was at UC Irvine until 2010 and have been at UCSF since.

In five words or less, what do you do for UC? Support Department of Surgery’s mission.

Why do you love working for UC? I love the diversity of the people I get to work with and the mission we get to work towards together. Especially at UCSF, I love the cutting-edge research, amazing researchers and how smart the staff is to support these geniuses. It’s been an honor to work with my colleagues — I’ve learned so much from them.

What’s something people don’t know about you? I’m an artist. I work in watercolor and mixed media. I began creating in art in 2014 when I was struggling with my mental health, and since then I’ve read a lot about how many people living with bipolar have amazing artistic abilities — there’s a counterpoint to everything. I donate half of my proceeds to charity; to date I’ve donated about $15,000. Check out Diane’s art. I’m also an athlete — I’ve done adaptive CrossFit for the past six years, and it’s changed my life.

Who’s your dream dinner guest (living or dead) and why? John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach. I met him when I was an undergrad at UCLA when he had a book signing. He signed my book and a basketball. Everyone at UCLA knows his sayings — they cut right to the truth and stay with you. He’s a leader and a man of faith. Also, I’m a huge sports fan and he won 10 championships! Plus, while he was the men’s basketball coach, he also supported the women’s gymnastics team.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? One of my undergraduate professors at UCLA, Dr. Chip Anderson from the School of Education, said: “Be as general as long as you can before you become too specific.” He meant not to be so focused on one area that you lose sight of other things that might interest you that you could be doing, and to be open to opportunities. This has allowed me to really enjoy and experience different jobs that I probably wouldn’t have taken a risk to pursue otherwise.

One of the best parts about working for UC is getting to know our amazing colleagues! Submit your Staff Snapshot.

Editor’s note: Diane has provided several resources to assist colleagues in support their well-being and each other, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.


Keep Reading

  • UC Spotlight: May 2024
    May 17, 2024
    UC Spotlight is a new UCnetwork feature that celebrates UC locations, teams and individual staff members who are helping to make UC a great place to work.
  • Honoring student diversity at UCSF
    May 13, 2024
    For the new alumni recently honored at UCSF, graduation is an opportunity to represent and serve traditionally marginalized groups of people.
  • UC People: Kaya Mentesoglu
    May 13, 2024
    For more than two decades, Kaya Mentesoglu has served UCLA’s International Institute with key IT technology support.