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Disability Is My Strength

Jenny Lay-Flurrie is being honored as a Disability Employment Champion of Change.

Jenny Lay-Flurrie

Jenny Lay-Flurrie is being honored as a Disability Employment Champion of Change.

As a person with a disability who is passionate about enabling others with disabilities, I am humbled and honoured to be a White House Champion of Change.

My journey with disability started early. By the age of 5, my hearing was already declining, a process that would continue over the next 30+ years. As a teenager and even through most of my twenties, I felt that I needed to hide my disability. My hearing loss is now profound, but by asking for the help I need and seeing my disability as a strength, I have been able to make myself – and now my employer – stronger. I am fortunate to work for a company that empowers and enables people to be successful.  I wake up excited every morning, eager to get to work. I’m lucky to be in a position to make a difference, and this fact drives me to do more every day.

I am a Senior Director at Microsoft, leading the Trusted Experience Team (TExT), which focuses on privacy, online safety, and accessibility. Our goal is to provide a positive experience for all customers. As with any great journey, mine started by taking big terrifying steps. The first was to identify to Microsoft as a person with a disability.  I joined the deaf ‘huddle’ group at Microsoft and went on to create and lead the DisAbility Employee Resource Group (ERG), a community of amazing people with disabilities, advocates, colleagues, and parents who share best practices and elevate understanding. At our first annual ‘Ability Summit’ four years ago, 80 people showed up. This past spring, 800 people came to Redmond headquarters to spend the day, which featured our CEO Satya Nadella, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and many others. The theme of the summit was “Imagine, Build, Enable,” and we have taken that to heart at Microsoft.

In 2012, we announced the Disability Answer Desk (DAD), providing specialized support for customers with disabilities. Today, DAD helps about 4,000 customers a month do more with Microsoft products and services. The team is made up of talented people both with and without disabilities. In addition, I work with the Washington State Disability Taskforce, a public-private group focused on driving representation of people with disabilities in state government to at least 5%. Lastly, I sit on the US Business Leadership Network (USBLN) board of directors, which works towards disability inclusion in the workplace. It’s more “than just doing the right thing;” it’s about enabling people to be successful and achieve their dreams. It’s about changing lives, just as mine was changed. 

At Microsoft, we are imagining and building technology for people with disabilities. During our company-wide ‘Hackathon’, we had projects focused on improving technology for people with deafness, blindness, autism, and more. Out of nearly three thousand submitted “hacks,” six of these projects placed in the top 100.  I’m most proud of our work with former NFL player Steve Gleason, who is living with ALS, to help create prototype technology to independently move a wheelchair via eye tracking. This work won the 2014 Microsoft Hackathon Grand Prize!

My disability motivates me to strive for a higher bar—a new level of independence and empowerment. It helps me to understand and have empathy for our customers.  I work to drive this understanding into Microsoft to create better products. So go on, if you want to know more about your customers, take that step and hire a person with a disability. They’ll teach you all you need to know.

Jenny Lay-Flurrie is a Senior Director at Microsoft, leading the Trusted Experience Team (TExT).