“I’ve learned that great ideas can come from your personal experiences of living with a disability because your view towards the world changes.”

Diagnosed in her teens with a genetic disorder that causes a slow loss of vision, Senior Product Manager Nidhi Jain says the challenges she’s faced have given her an edge in her approach to solving problems for customers.

When I was 17, I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder that over the years has rendered me blind. It started out as night blindness—impaired vision at night or in dim lighting—and gradually has impacted my central vision. Because of my low vision, I rely on a number of tools and technologies, including apps like Seeing AI and Magnifier for reading short text like product labels and the screen reader program JAWs, which runs on Windows and reads aloud the text on my computer screen.

Despite my disability, when I interviewed at Microsoft more than six and half years ago, I was treated like any other candidate. And in my first job at Microsoft as a product manager, I immediately felt supported by my manager and colleagues. For example, as my vision gradually decreased, my manager at Microsoft helped me access a license for my screen reading technology and the app Aira, which I use for visual interpretation of various tasks. I also use a sighted guide for a couple of hours each day for help with visual-heavy work, such as translating product demos and performance data and creating PowerPoint decks.

Over the years, I’ve learned that great ideas can come from your personal experiences of living with a disability because your view towards the world changes. Because of that, in some ways I feel very privileged and even at an advantage. My personal experiences and challenges have given me an extra edge, for example, when it comes to solving problems in the workplace and for our customers.

Right now, I’m working on a product called Voice Access, which is targeted at people who have limited strength in their upper limbs. Based on the lived experiences of the people who will use it, our team can make subtle but meaningful improvements. It’s not a completely new product, but there is innovation in the updates that we have made because of that crucial user feedback.

As a member of the Disability Employee Resource Group (ERG) in India for almost four years now, I contribute to internal and external events and webinars aimed at ensuring that a cultural shift is happening, specifically focused awareness of all disabilities. My work with the Disability ERG has definitely challenged me personally to think beyond my own lived experiences.

For more stories like Nidhi’s visit: aka.ms/InclusionIsInnovation/Disability