I began as a product copywriter, responsible for writing thousands of item descriptions. I progressed to become a senior manager on our site merchandising and customer experience team.
At the same time I was expanding my focus on customer experience, I was also losing my eyesight.
By 2015, I was in the thick of vision loss, but refused to let anyone see the battle I was fighting inside. I came to work every day without using a white cane or guide dog, because I was afraid of what people would think if they knew I had a disability. Would their perceptions of my abilities change? Would this impact my career growth?
I soon began using assistive technology called a screen reader that read all accessible content on my computer, tablet and smart phone – enabling me to thrive in a digital world. Within a matter of days, I quickly realized that for the first time in 15 years, I could no longer shop our website. Walmart.com was not accessible for screen readers. I immediately thought about the more than 20% of the U.S. population touched by disabilities and wondered how many of them couldn’t shop our site, either.
I suddenly realized that I had an opportunity to make a difference on inclusion for our associates and accessibility for our customers. It was time to take what I perceived as a liability and turn it into an asset. As I began to share my situation with a trusted HR partner, she introduced me to a colleague, and now dear friend, Russell Shaffer, who has the same degenerative retinal disease as me. Russell’s passion for inclusion and his invaluable support (along with my first guide dog) gave me just the dose of courage I needed to be able to bring my true self to work.
Nearly three years later, I can tell you that the day I stepped out of my comfort zone is the day I stepped into the most challenging, yet rewarding, job of my career. Today, I am proud to lead accessibility for Walmart eCommerce, proud to co-chair our internal group for associates with disabilities and proud to be part of a company that continues to promote the importance of diverse thought leadership as part of its overall commitment to diversity and inclusion.
I am now principal product owner of digital accessibility, and my job is educating and enabling teams across our company to build accessibility into our culture and the way we work. When we start with digital inclusion and universal design, we deliver a better experience for everyone. Walmart eCommerce is just embarking on the accessibility journey. We’re proud of the progress we’ve made and excited about the opportunity to continue optimizing our digital properties. From the audits of our site and apps to the changes we’ve made in our processes, we’re continuing to make our experience more accessible. We have also made great strides with our grocery offering, as we know how important it is to make grocery shopping easy for everyone. And, our customers with disabilities have told us online grocery pickup and delivery are making a difference in their lives.
Another key focus area is driving accessibility innovation for internal software applications, ensuring that everything Walmart builds for the accessibility of our customers is also built to make associates’ lives easier as well.
Sharing my story has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I am grateful for both the personal and professional connections that I’ve made along this journey.
In addition to my day-to-day work at Walmart, I also frequently travel to conferences to speak. The thing that humbles me the most, and what makes my work so rewarding, is the fact that other major corporations are also making accessibility a priority for the benefit of their customers and colleagues. When Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and Google can all sit down together over the issue of accessibility and devote their resources toward tackling this challenge, it transcends competitive boundaries and sends a clear message that people with disabilities are assets. We bring new and different perspectives to the workforce, we adapt quickly and are extreme problem solvers.
Thanks to the culture of trust within Walmart, I am really proud to be me. The me with a disability. The me that is so honored to be part of a team of associates who have leaned in and learned how to truly make a difference in so many people’s lives.