Microsoft Hosts First Career Day for High School Students with Disabilities

REDMOND, Wash., Nov. 15, 2000 — When Liz King, general manager of Leadership Development at Microsoft, asked a group of 140 Seattle-area high school students with disabilities how many of them knew more about technology than their parents, almost every hand shot up.

John Lissner, 16, is in the process of setting up a network of computers at home while he teaches his family how to use email and download music from the Internet. Kenny Lantz, 17, uses computers every day to catalog products at his part-time job at a local hospital. And Josh Hancock, 17, is the employee the manager at the local Albertson’s grocery store always calls upon to fix the check-stand machines. All 10 machines are working now; when Josh started at Albertson’s, only five were in operation.

John, Kenny and Josh are all special-education students with learning disabilities, who are getting work experience in their community. A transition para-professional, Lorrie Thompson, brought them to Microsoft’s first career day for high school students with disabilities to help them assess where their interest in technology could take them.

Students from schools throughout the Seattle area attended the event along with 60 parents, teachers and administrators. The career day included presentations about the current and future status of accessible technology and how students can get access to technology. It also featured a panel of Microsoft employees with disabilities who discussed their experiences at the company.

We hope that this event helps students, parents and teachers get a feel for what technology is available and how people with disabilities can leverage accessible technology for higher education or a career,

said Laura Ruby, a program manager in Microsoft’s Accessible Technology Group.

We want the students to walk away with ideas about how they can use technology to do things they didn’t think they could do.

Exhibitors at Career Day included the Washington Research Institute (WRI), North Seattle Community College, Seattle University, Peninsula College, Bellevue Community College (BCC) and the Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology (DO-IT) program hosted by the University of Washington.

Susan Gjolmesli, director of Disability Support Services at Bellevue Community College, who is blind, staffed the BCC booth where students received information about college courses and on support services available for people with disabilities.

This collaboration with Microsoft is a wonderful thing, because many of the students who are here today will really thrive in a technical field,

she said.

Lee Bassett, project director at WRI, displayed information about Post-ITT, a program that helps facilitate the transition of high school students with disabilities as they move into college. The Post-ITT Web site ( provides information about colleges in the Pacific Northwest, including contacts for disability services at each college and how to access those services.

Another exhibitor, Sara Lopez, project coordinator for the DO-IT program, provided attendees with resource materials about college and about obtaining work-based learning experiences while they’re still in school. DO-IT, in association with the University of Washington’s adaptive technology lab, promotes the use of technology to maximize the independence and productivity of people with disabilities.

As a leader in the software industry, Microsoft recognizes its responsibility to develop products and information technologies that can be accessed and used by all people, including those with disabilities. As a result, the company needs employees who can work to develop products that are widely accessible, said Mylene Padolina, a diversity consultant at Microsoft.

What we’re finding is that our employees with disabilities provide us with a great perspective as we work to ensure our products are usable by everyone,

she said.

Microsoft employee Heather Swayne told Career Day participants that working with her own disabilities has made her passionate about making technology accessible to everyone. When Swayne initially applied for a job with the Office Product Group at Microsoft, she hid her learning disability and attention deficit disorder. However, when she finally disclosed it to her prospective managers, they found ways to work around it by helping her find ways to use technology differently.

Similarly, when Swayne developed repetitive stress injury — inoperable tendonitis in her wrists — Microsoft provided her with software that allowed her to dictate rather than type, which helped her continue working. Eventually, Swayne transferred to her present position with the Accessible Technology Group so that she could work full-time to make Microsoft software accessible to everyone.

Microsoft is taking a four-pronged approach to making computers more accessible: developing products that are usable by everyone; building relationships with the disability community; equipping the development community; and empowering customers with information.

Microsoft addresses the needs of people with disabilities during all phases of its product planning, development and support. Efforts to do so include establishing accessibility guidelines for use internally and by third-party developers, and working with the disability community to solicit and incorporate feedback when planning and developing products and services. The company also supports developers of disability access technologies, recruits qualified people with disabilities, and addresses known accessibility issues with products and services as they are updated.

As a follow-up to Career Day, Padolina has scheduled a job-shadowing program for late January, during which at least 25 students will have the opportunity to meet individually with Microsoft employees while they’re at work.

At Microsoft, we have thousands of open positions and a shortage of skilled people to fill them,

Padolina said.

As demonstrated by our panel of Microsoft employees, having a disability does not limit your ability to succeed at this company. Job-shadowing will help students go one step further to find out what Microsoft employees actually do during the day.

Chris Stake, a high school senior who attended the conference, said that his classic line is,

I’m confused.

However, he seemed far from it as he discussed his interest in using computers to play games, send jokes via email and research subjects like national security. Career Day was Chris’ first visit to Microsoft, but he will consider working for the company to explore his interest in technology. Job coach Pam Drake felt that bringing Chris, who uses a wheelchair, to Career Day would help him explore job options in the technology field and at Microsoft.

Josh Hancock attended the event with a similar goal.

I jumped at the chance to come here today,

he said.

I wanted to learn more about how to get a job at Microsoft.

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