Rockville, Md., Oct. 17 – Jenny Lay-Flurrie is the senior director for accessibility, online safety and privacy at Microsoft. She also has been deaf nearly her whole life. However, she has not always had total hearing loss, and found that the condition had been continually getting worse as time went on. Surprisingly, no one in the Microsoft office had known about Lay-Flurrie’s hearing loss until after a year had passed in the office, at which point her hearing had gotten bad enough that she felt she could no longer efficiently do her job. However, once she asked for help, Microsoft immediately took action and offered assistance and was willing to help accommodate her in any way.
“It took me a long time to figure out my disability is a strength. We are born problem solvers, loyal, and driven. I wouldn’t change my journey for the world – it’s made me who I am – but there is a smarter way to do this,” Lay-Flurrie said. “There is so much that I can do to help others personally and in my role at Microsoft. There are a billion people with disabilities in the world. We’ve got to get it right for them.”
Microsoft’s Cross Disability Employee Resource Group (ERG) has a goal of ensuring that all of their employees with disabilities are able to perform to the best of their ability. This group is a key factor in the process of hiring and retaining employees with disabilities at Microsoft. The ERG enables employees at Microsoft to reach their full potential through inclusion, representation and access to accommodations. In doing so, Microsoft hopes to be the employer of choice for people with disabilities globally. Lay Flurrie created this group in 2009 after experiencing first-hand the eagerness of Microsoft wanting to accommodate her.
The ERG works with several priorities in mind. Driving internal visibility is one of these measures, which aims to ensure that there is an awareness of disability groups and that adequate accommodations and resources are available to any and all employees. ERG also wants to help Microsoft be the best-in-practice with software, tools, buildings, and events that are accessible to all people with disabilities. This means collaborating with product teams to design, develop and build accessible Microsoft products and driving accessibility improvements in the work environment.
Building external awareness is the ERG’s final priority. This directive aims to designate Microsoft as the employer of choice for people with disabilities, meaning ERG works with community partners to share Microsoft’s approach and best practices in the areas of accessibility and ergonomic accommodations. As a result of this cohesive and far-reaching program, Microsoft represents and speaks on the behalf of more than 1,000 of their constituents around the globe. They accomplish this by sponsoring activities at an annual internal company event known as the Ability Summit, which focuses on the engineering and societal sides of accessibility, as well as social aspects of disability in the workplace, community and home.
In April 2015, Microsoft announced an Autism Hiring Program. This initiative is aimed at getting more people with autism to fill roles such as software engineer or data analyst. The Danish-based Autism consulting firm Specialisterne assists with this effort. The organization helps Microsoft select and evaluate qualified individuals with autism in hopes that they attain full-time employment at their offices in Redmond, Washington. Since the announcement of the program, Microsoft has hired 11 people with Autism and hopes to continue recruiting.
Not only does the leadership of Microsoft show a commitment to inclusiveness, it believes it is a key part of its success. The customer base of Microsoft is extremely diverse and their products are used around the globe. In order to successfully create products that meet all their needs and expectations, their workforce needs to be comprised of people who make up their market, including people with disabilities. This kind of commitment is one that RespectAbility’s campaign #RespectTheAbility seeks to highlight and make known.
The success of Microsoft’s commitment to people with disabilities and accessibility is evident. The Disability Equality Index is a national, transparent benchmarking tool created by the U.S. Business Leadership Network and the American Association of People with Disabilities that enables businesses to receive an objective score, on a scale of zero to 100, on their disability inclusion policies and practices. With a current score of 100 on the DEI, Microsoft is doing something right when it comes to hiring people with disabilities.
RespectAbility is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities for people with disabilities. We understand we are a stronger community when we live up to our values – when we are welcoming, diverse, moral and respect one another. We work with entertainment, policy makers, educators, self-advocates, nonprofits, employers, faith-based organizations, philanthropists, journalists and online media to fight stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities. Led by people with disabilities and those who love them, we know that people with disabilities and their families have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else, even if they face different challenges. We do not lobby; we educate. Our free tools and factual resources inform so people with disabilities can achieve the education, training, jobs, security and good health that everyone needs and deserves. Learn more: https://www.respectability.org.