The panel sits while one panelist speaks.

Panel of Computing Professionals with Disabilities

Panelists included Katie Sullivan, Microsoft; Sean Marihugh, Microsoft; Jessie Shulman, Expedia; and Joel Isaac, JP Morgan Chase.

How does your disability impact your education or career?

  • My disabilities impacts the way I consume and output information. My learning disabilities make me process information differently than other people and I need more time to read email and other documents. I spend more time scheduling and making sure I have time to do these tasks.
  • Through my transition from seeing to not seeing, I have learned that things in an electronic format are the best. I can lose information when people are speaking and pointing and referencing things in the room. I can’t lose information as easily if it’s electronic.
  • I’ve had issues with communication being deaf. I often have to prepare more before meetings, whether it is arranging for captions or an interpreter. I try to share the captioning or video experiences I have with the others I’m having a meeting with so we’re on the same page.
  • I have to make sure things are always physically accessible; advanced notice is key to make these changes. I have to request my office is set up a certain way, travel is planned in advance, etc.

When did you choose to disclose your disability to your job?

  • I’m on an accessibility team. I figured I didn’t need to disclose until I met them, because I knew they’d be welcoming. When I was scheduled for my last job, I was hired through the Federal Government’s Schedule A hiring system, which is non competitive, so I had to disclose my disability.
  • Because I need an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, I disclose before the interview so they know what to expect and what to do when we’re in the interview.
  • It’s very situational and depends on your disability. When you have an invisible disability, it’s often a more complicated question. If I’m talking to a recruiter, I probably won’t disclose. If I’m talking to the direct hiring manager, I usually will, since they have to directly work with me and my disability. I often try to weave my disability into the job I’m applying for and share how it helps with my job performance instead of hinders it.
  • I usually disclose right when I’m hired so I can get the accommodations I need immediately, but it’s often on a case-by-case situation.

Have you had a negative issue with your disability and your employer?

  • Since I have been progressively losing vision, I have had a hard time recognizing that I was changing or needing more accommodations. It took me six months to really admit to myself that my vision had changed. I had to start asking for help. I made it a negative experience for myself because I was worried about the stigma.
  • I’m a terrible speller because of my disability, and I have a lot of anxiety about doing work in front of people and writing on the board. I’ve been embarrassed in front of other people before in the workplace.
  • Deaf people may have a lot of accommodations, and this can be really hard for impromptu events. I always felt like I was missing out on those quick hall conversations—but I’ve quickly learned that people are willing to actively find me to talk about things.
  • People with mobility issues often get extra scrutiny about whether they can actually travel on the job.

What do you wish employers knew to better retain employees with disabilities?

  • Employers should create employee resource groups for people with disabilities and learning about assistive technology options.
  • Employers should be open to talking about accommodations and the things that can be done to keep me engaged in the job.
  • Employers need to be aware of the whole process. If the recruiter doesn’t know there are resources for people with disabilities, they won’t be as welcoming to people with disabilities.
  • I was able to participate in a lot of internships in college that helped me test out my skills and the things I had learn and the tools I needed in the workplace. This really helped me know what jobs were right for me and what I needed once I got there.
  • Schedule A and special inclusive hiring processes need to be well understood and employers need to know how to articulate these practices.
  • Employers should break down workplace stigma about disabilities. Even before hiring a person with a disability, have differences in employee strengths and weaknesses and accommodations talked about in the workplace.

How do you feel about employers asking if you have a disability on applications? What is the ideal response to receive when you disclose?

  • If employees are aware you’re looking for people with disabilities, they’re more willing to disclose and start that discussion—it’s all about how you explain how the information will be used.
  • I am often turned off by that question because there’s always a huge disclaimer. It seems like a negative question, so I never want to answer.
  • Do I make myself look like a weak candidate by disclosing my disability before even meeting a person? This is what I ask when I’m answering that.
  • When I disclose, I want a supportive response, “Great, we have all these resources and this is how to get accommodations.” I want to be welcomed and hear about how I will be successful with that company. If I don’t get a response at all or a negative one, it worries me how it will be once I start the job.
  • Managers should talk about all the resources they have to offer to all employee candidates, but also say you don’t have to take them.

How do you get involve more people with disabilities in the conversation and make the first encounter more welcoming?

  • Most of my experiences have had me starting with an email for what I need from people for meetings, and people try to give me time to let me know when they’re planning on doing something.
  • We tend to congregate with people who look and act like us, but once people start working with a person with a disability, they’re more welcoming. It’s better to be open and show people how to interact with you rather than hide it.
  • A lot of my accommodations can also be very helpful to other people—taking digital notes and making action items, for example. People learn to appreciate these accommodations as a helpful collaborating tool.
  • One of my managers had a disability as well, and she actually came in to talk to me and offered for us to host a workshop on my disability for my team, and I found that very welcoming and helpful to have someone there helping me navigate it.

How do you get people with disabilities applying for more jobs?

  • When an employer hosts a specific career fair for people with disabilities with actual employees from the company, it creates a welcoming atmosphere and encourages more people to apply.
  • Targeted outreach is very helpful—how do we take advantage of existing efforts to hire students with disabilities?
  • Partnering with AccessComputing is a great way to connect students with disabilities with employers looking to hire people with disabilities.

How would you help combat bias in the workplace and build a better culture of acceptance at your workplace?

  • Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) was created to help promote a better accessibility culture in the workplace and the public. We try to do something each year for GAAD where we can show others and teach our workplace and more about accessibility.
  • People with disabilities hired into an organization can often be assumed to work in accessibility, or when a product is tested, they go to the people with disabilities first as the “model” of accessibility. Employers shouldn’t just assume people with disabilities are the know all/say all for disability culture or technology use..
  • It’s okay to own your disability and use it as a strength. Creating a culture that accepts strengths and weaknesses is important.
  • Disability resource groups should have hidden memberships so you don’t know who is in that group. This allows people to participate before disclosing.
  • I used to think employee resource groups (ERGs) weren’t for me, but lately I’ve been more involved and learned that they really can make a difference and give a perspective on different aspects of my job. Working as a group makes my work more valuable because I have more input, and my work can be used by others. Sharing those resources gives more support for all of us.
  • Resource groups have provided opportunities to me, like meeting with students and sharing my experiences, or meeting with others to share our issues and learn more from them together. Sharing the value of what is in a ERG and discussion group provides feedback for tools and accessibility of resources as well.

How do we make a business case for accessibility and those resources? How do you turn a positive response into funding, opportunities, and standards for our companies?

  • Make sure managers are open to these resources and getting on board for employees participating. These mentalities often trickle down—if management gets on board, the employees will as well.
  • Staffing, outreach for events, funding should all be considered—employees can only do so much because they need to do their main job. We need staff specifically signed on for these resource groups and more funding for these efforts.
  • Continually push inclusivity as an important message for the company.
  • The more people you get invested in accessibility, the more you won’t even have to bring it up—accessibility will be second nature to all people in a company.