The Harkin Summit: Innovating for Inclusion

Doubling Disability Employment In A Changing Landscape

Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft, delivered the keynote address to kick off the 2017 Harkin Summit. Lay-Flurrie, who is deaf, has an extensive career in advocacy for people with disabilities, and has fulfilled a number of roles at Microsoft including Chair of the Disability Employee Resource Group a Microsoft, Senior Director of Accessibility, Online Safety and privacy, Senior Director of Accessibility Customer Experience, and Senior Director AdCenter Service and Support. In her various roles at Microsoft, she has developed programs to improve inclusive hiring practices, including a training program for people with autism.

Lay-Flurrie discussed the importance of weaving those with disabilities into the work environment. “How do you talk and build accessible products if you don’t have disability in the fabric of your culture?” Lay-Flurrie said that incorporating those individuals with disabilities into the work the organization does is vital to improving the overall inclusive atmosphere of the company. Progress cannot be made without incorporating these individuals into the decision-making processes.

The conversation specifically addressed the importance of the technology sector in improving employment outlooks for individuals with disabilities. “With the power of technology, we can empower and hopefully change the unemployment rate,” she said. In a fast-moving sector that continues to grow and shape our everyday lives, she believes it is vitally important that we include individuals with disabilities in its development, both for the betterment of the industry and for the welfare of individuals with disabilities.

Lay-Flurrie also encouraged full-scale, complete accessibility assessment and overhaul for companies, from hiring practices to websites. “If you don’t know if your website is accessible,” she explained, “it’s not.” She explained the importance of large-scale inclusive practices that incorporate the voices of individuals with disabilities in the planning process.


Written by Joseph Miller