‘Being your best self-advocate is the utter route to success’

Lay-Flurrie discusses using disability as a strength.

During her recent Community Conversations presentation, speaker Jenny Lay-Flurrie touched upon how Mercer Island provides myriad forms of accessibility for people with disabilities.

For example, the city’s Mercerdale Park playground renovation project includes ADA access to some of the area’s play elements, the Luther Burbank Park loop is ideal for wheelchair and stroller access and the city devised an ADA Transition Plan.

The 12-year Island resident and Microsoft chief accessibility officer delved into her “Disability and Accessibility” program, focusing on how disability is a strength, on Nov. 7 in the city council chambers. The city of Mercer Island and ONE MI-sponsored event was also streamed online and was supplemented by closed captioning and an ASL signer.

Lay-Flurrie, who is deaf, noted that it’s crucial to have discussions about disabilities — which will impact all people during their lifetime — and how people are immensely dependent on accessibility. Through her research, she revealed that there is a heavy demographic of older (over age 65) and younger people with disabilities on the Island. The amount of people worldwide with disabilities stands at more than 1 billion and rising, she added.

People who live with disabilities are part of “the cool gang,” Lay-Flurrie said with pride.

“It’s given me a unique view on the world. I’m very visual. I have a music degree, I learned how to play the clarinet not really hearing myself play,” said Lay-Flurrie, adding that she signs and wears hearing aids to keep her voice intact.

Through her job at Microsoft, Lay-Flurrie has played an integral role in the neurodiversity and disability hiring programs at the company. The programs include interview preparation, mock interviews, group team-building activities, an introduction to the Microsoft culture, focus on roles and expectations and more.

Lay-Flurrie said that Microsoft is one of copious companies who see disability as a strength and they actively search for degree-holders who thrive in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) realms. Expanding on embracing their disabilities, Microsoft has developed a yearly campaign for its employees, titled “Count Me In.”

“Being your best self-advocate is the utter route to success. Advocacy starts when they’re a kid, being open with your disability, advocating for what you need to be successful,” she said. “Giving your kid that power to be able to take that step is the best and most important thing you can do.”

Through her lived experience, Lay-Flurrie said she can help build programs at Microsoft that can benefit others who have traversed a similar path.

“My job now at Microsoft is to bring all of that unique joy into everything that we do,” she said.

* Next up on Dec. 8, the Community Conversations series will feature “Mitigating Implicit Bias,” which will include interactive training and instruction on how people can understand their own implicit biases in order to begin undoing them. This online session will take place from 6:30-8 p.m. To register, visit https://letstalk.mercergov.org/community-conversations.