Disclosing that you have a disability can be difficult, especially in a professional setting. That is something Laura Allen has first-hand experience with - both in her job and during her time at college. She doesn’t use a mobility aid or have a service animal, so people often don’t know that she has a visual impairment. “I often feel as though sometimes it's more like an invisible disability, and it's up to me to then disclose [it]”, Laura explains. “Even when I do disclose, it can still be very difficult for people to understand what I mean when I say that I have a lack of central vision.”
Laura has a rare visual condition that affects her central vision, meaning that her peripheral vision is clear, but her central vision is distorted and blurred. She lost vision in her left eye at age 10 and in her right eye at 14, so going into high school she had to re-adjust to living and learning with limited vision. As one of the first vision impaired students to go to her high school, both Laura and her school had to learn how to tackle this change in situation. When she started to explore different assistive technologies, she became able to do her school work independently without having to rely on her family for support.
With the independence gained through high school as well as the support of the students services team, Laura thrived during her time at Georgetown University. And it was during college that Laura got acquainted with Google as a possible employer for the first time. At an event organized by Lime Connect, an organization that promotes university students with disabilities for employment opportunities, Laura had the opportunity to learn about working at Google and really started to see herself fit into the organization.
After finishing her degree, Laura landed a position at the sales division at Google doing account management for tech B2B companies. Although she found the work interesting, sales was not exactly where her heart was at, and with the support of her manager she started sharing feedback and got involved in accessibility projects at Google. Being an assistive tech user, Laura had many inputs and perspectives that were well received by colleagues on the accessibility teams. Eventually, Laura was able to transition to a full-time position with accessibility, and she felt like she had finally found the place where she belonged.
It was just an amazing, amazing transition to be able to shift into something that I care so deeply about. I remember just having this transformative moment when I was in the prior job working so hard, working so many hours and just thinking to myself now, what would it be like if I could put all these hours towards something that I truly loved and truly cared about in the world? Once I made it to accessibility, I knew exactly how it felt and it was an amazing experience.
Working with accessibility, Laura was able to fully embrace her disability and feel that her perspective was able to add something truly valuable to the conversation. “I feel like in this role, I can actually shout from the rooftops and be embraced by my teammates and by our leadership. That has been truly transformative for me”, Laura explains. For her, it’s important that companies actively work on having a diverse workforce and support employees with disabilities in the right way. “Our differences are what make us all beautiful”, she says. “We need to be seeking and embracing these diverse perspectives, putting them into what we're building in order to make truly accessible products for everyone.”
But it’s not only a company’s product that can benefit from having a diverse workforce, it also positively impacts the company culture. Growing up, Laura didn’t have many role models with a visual impairment. But starting at Google, she had the opportunity to meet and work with other people that she could identify with and look up to - and that was something that made her feel like she truly belonged. “I've become so much more of an open person because of how my story was being received, and I'm super grateful for that”, she concludes.