Hitting a 'brick wall' was good for this Microsoft exec

Jenny Lay-Flurrie has spent years making Microsoft products more accessible for others. One day, she could w...

Posted: Dec 4, 2018 3:51 PM
Updated: Dec 4, 2018 3:51 PM

Jenny Lay-Flurrie has spent years making Microsoft products more accessible for others. One day, she could work on a project that will improve her own life.

Microsoft's chief accessibility officer happens to be deaf. She currently relies on human interpreters, lip reading, apps that translate speech into text and a trusty standby to do her job.

Disability and society

Diseases and disorders

Ear, nose and throat disorders

Health and medical

Hearing impairment

Society

Business and industry sectors

Business, economy and trade

Electronics

Health care

Hearing aids

Medical and health care electronics

Technology

Companies

Microsoft

Disabled persons

Children

Demographic groups

Families and children

Family members and relatives

Population and demographics

Hiring

Human resources and personnel management

Labor and employment

Consumer electronics

Consumer products

Electronic game equipment

"I have to have my notebook with me ... a pen and paper is a good thing," she told CNN.

But advances in artificial intelligence could soon allow technologists to design a digital sign language interpreter. Lay-Flurrie thinks Microsoft could be the company that builds one.

Lay-Flurrie joined Microsoft (MSFT) from T-Mobile (TMUS) in 2005 for a job managing consumer support across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. She became more involved with the tech firm's accessibility efforts over time, and landed her current job two years ago.

Her deafness was caused by a childhood bout with measles and numerous ear infections. Mild hearing loss didn't stop Lay-Flurrie from studying music in college, but her condition later became much more severe.

'Brick wall moments'

A career in tech has not always been easy for the British executive, who now lives in Redmond, Washington, where Microsoft is headquartered.

Her first major setback in the workplace came early on, when she turned down a promotion that would have required her to manage a team that wasn't based in the same location.

"I got it in my head that there was no way I could tackle that job ... I was using analogue hearing aids which didn't work with a mobile phone," she said.

But her boss wouldn't take no for an answer. With his support and help from a government-sponsored program, she was able to switch to digital hearing aids that allowed her to stay in touch with her team. Her career progressed.

"I call these 'brick wall moments' and every person gets them, whether they have a disability or not," she said. "What matters is what you do with them."

Life at Microsoft

Lay-Flurrie has made her mark at Microsoft.

She has overseen major initiatives including the creation of a "Disability Answer Desk" that handles up to 300,000 phone calls per year. She hosts hackathons focused on making Microsoft's products more accessible.

Lay-Flurrie also started a hiring program for people with autism at Microsoft, and is working on ways to empower employees with mental health issues.

In 2014, she was recognized by the Obama White House for her work on accessibility issues.

Xbox for everyone

Another major highlight is the Xbox adaptive controller, which makes gaming easier for players with limited mobility. It was the result of one of the company's hackathons.

"It was designed with and for people with disabilities," she said. "Xbox engaged with a myriad of different organizations to get their feedback ... what they did want to see, what they didn't want to see."

It was the process of creation that makes her most excited about the future.

"I want to see that replicated," she said, adding that accessibility projects often fail because companies don't engage with their customers.

The importance of accessibility

Asked whether it makes business sense for companies to spend money on accessibility, Lay-Flurrie didn't hesitate.

"Heck yes," she said. "No company wants to exclude people from their products ... when you are not prioritizing accessibility, you are excluding people, whether you realize it or not."

Lay-Flurrie still faces difficulties in the workplace. Sometimes she finds herself in crowded meeting rooms where many people are speaking at once.

"That's where you need to be your own best self advocate," she said. "You need to be empowered enough to say 'you guys need to stop talking over one another.' "

But she wasn't always confident enough to stand up for herself.

"I was taught to do that by strong mentors and advocates," she said. "I was told 'you need to be asking for what you need to be successful. Your deafness should never stop you.' "

The busy executive still plays the piano, for example.

"Music has never been a purely auditory experience for me ... music is far more than sound and vibration," she said.

West Lafayette
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 74°
Kokomo
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 73°
Rensselaer
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 70°
Fowler
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 70°
Williamsport
Clear
71° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 71°
Crawfordsville
Clear
69° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 69°
Frankfort
Scattered Clouds
73° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 73°
Delphi
Clear
71° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 71°
Monticello
Clear
71° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 71°
Logansport
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 72°
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 51612

Reported Deaths: 2760
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion12074693
Lake5650249
Elkhart361860
Allen2952134
St. Joseph214869
Hamilton1708101
Cass16459
Hendricks1466100
Johnson1345118
Porter84038
Tippecanoe7799
Vanderburgh7686
Clark71144
Madison67864
LaPorte62328
Howard60758
Bartholomew60145
Kosciusko5824
Marshall5579
Noble52028
Boone49144
LaGrange48610
Jackson4783
Delaware47552
Hancock46836
Shelby45925
Floyd41444
Monroe34828
Morgan34531
Grant32226
Dubois3096
Montgomery29820
Henry29618
Clinton2903
White27610
Dearborn26523
Warrick26129
Vigo2588
Decatur25632
Lawrence25225
Harrison21822
Greene19632
Miami1942
Jennings17912
Putnam1738
DeKalb1694
Scott1659
Wayne1586
Daviess15117
Perry14910
Steuben1382
Orange13723
Jasper1362
Ripley1347
Franklin1288
Gibson1242
Wabash1163
Carroll1142
Starke1083
Whitley1076
Fayette1067
Newton10110
Huntington942
Jefferson872
Wells821
Randolph804
Fulton731
Jay720
Knox710
Washington681
Pulaski661
Clay645
Rush623
Posey610
Spencer571
Owen521
Benton510
Sullivan501
Adams491
Brown431
Blackford402
Fountain362
Crawford330
Switzerland320
Tipton321
Parke270
Martin260
Ohio230
Vermillion200
Warren151
Union140
Pike120
Unassigned0193

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events