Tell us your story.
Wouldn’t you know it, but my first involvement in the digital space was when I was having a problem with a computer. Amidst my frustration, I was still excited to be in a space so focused on improving technology and making devices better for users. So, one Tuesday, over a decade ago I walked into a random computer store to seek help on a computer problem that needed to be fixed. By chance, I happened to witness customers and staff using sign language in the store (cue the proverbial “aha” light bulb above my head). I immediately inquired and discovered that they also sold accessible IT products to the government to help employees with disabilities.
I soon recognized an opportunity to merge my two passions — disability advocacy and technology. Therefore, immediately I knew what I had to do. A week later, I went to pick up my computer from that store. I arrived in a business suit with my resume firmly planted in my hand. As I was later told, I sold myself to the owners. I was ecstatic to receive a job offer as Director of Marketing.
Flash forward to a few years, and now I’m the President of a company, Accessibility Partners, that helps make technology accessible for people with disabilities. We empower those with disabilities to gain access and communicate in the digital space when previous barriers may have hindered usage. We partner with federal agencies and large Fortune 500 IT corporations to audit software, hardware, and all other IT products to see how usable they are for people with various disabilities.
My Aunt, a speech pathologist, taught me basic sign language as a young girl as I was eager to chat with a school friend who was deaf. She’s always been an inspiration to me and is a strong, caring, formidable woman.
What do you most want other women and young girls to know about being a woman in our digital culture?
I’m thrilled to see that STEM courses are being infused in schools starting at a very young age, and they are targeted toward girls. I think it’s important that the school systems bring young women into these classes early, but it also comes from a shift in perspective. I want women and young girls to realize that even though these fields seem male-centric in the media, that doesn’t have remain the status quo. It’s okay to go in and ‘break things’ and build them to be better and more innovative.
It is a false perception that the sciences and technology are a male dominated field, and in my field of accessibility, we strive for inclusivity. I’m hoping that not only women, but those with disabilities realize their tremendous voice in technology innovation. Disabilities are something that anyone can acquire at any age and phase in your life. It’s good to have devices built with that provision in mind. For instance, people who are blind or low vision, may use screen readers to read all of the text and content on their computer screen out loud to them. Folks who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing, need captioning of all videos and people with mobility challenges need to have accessible interfaces as they utilize their technology. I’m hoping that women engineers will have the foresight to design with that spirit of inclusivity.
It’s an unfortunate statistic that there are still millions of people who lack access to broadband Internet. Technology is truly a unifier, and hearing that people don’t have access mean that they miss out on the communication benefits that are shared by the larger society. This digital divide can be changed by women engineers, especially those with a focus on accessibility.
My stepfather gave me one piece of advice that I carry over to everything I do. It’s simple, only two words – “Everything counts.”
It helps me keep things in perspective. I sometimes forget that even the smallest tasks can have bigger repercussions if they’re not done correctly. However, I know my limitations — you can’t always give 100 percent. So, I try to appreciate every facet of my business and see where it could lead. Often, the little things are sometimes the most rewarding when I apply the proper energy.