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Microsoft’s Chief Accessibility Officer on how remote work can actually improve collaboration

Microsoft's Chief Accessibility Officer takes our questionnaire, in which designers share how they collaborate (and some work-life secrets).

A headshot of Microsoft Chief Accessiblity Officer Jenny Lay-Flurrie framed with a gray oval against a blue and purple gradient.

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In a new series, we’re asking lead designers across the industry to share their work life advice, design do’s and don’ts, and secrets to effective collaboration. Consider it our design take on the Proustian questionnaire, with the aim to give you insight on how top designers work and think about design in a time unlike any other. (And they might just spill a few work-life secrets along the way.)


Jenny Lay-Flurrie is the Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft, where she ensures every department, from product to UX design, is designing for accessibility and inclusivity. We "need developers to embed accessibility into their everything when it comes to website design," says Lay-Flurrie.


Here, she shares the benefits of hybrid work for people with disabilities, the best advice she’s ever received, and what design is to her (hint: opening doors for others).



What's the key to effective collaboration?

Listening and communicating.



What's the most surprising difference between in-office collaboration and remote?

Remote work created equity for people with disabilities, with technology aiding that. It also put a lens on the importance of accessibility.



Collaboration is most important to which part of the design process?


Collaboration is important throughout the entire process. Teams must work with and engage all voices to ensure inclusivity and empower all.


What's the one quality you always look for in a designer?

Being curious and having the ability to engage with peers, customers, communities, etc., to translate feedback and ideas into pragmatic solutions.


What’s your proudest moment?

Reflecting on how our disability community at Microsoft has been empowered. We recognize disability for what it is, which is an expertise in a talent pool, and this has opened many doors for the disability community throughout the industry.


What was your biggest learning moment?


Every day is a learning moment.


What was your biggest realization from the past year and half of working amid a pandemic?

Shifting to a virtual world (or hybrid) can create opportunities and benefits for the disability community for those that have access to tech and connectivity. And it’s been a joy to be a bigger part of my family’s life.


What’s your work mantra?

Work hard, play hard.


What's the best advice you’ve received? (From whom?)

Two moments standout – A boss in my early career told me to stop putting artificial ceilings on what I could achieve and limiting my capabilities as a result, he was right. And when I came to Microsoft, someone from HR said to view asking for help as a sign of strength, not a weakness. Both stopped me dead in my tracks and instrumental to where I am today.


What's a design you wish you thought of yourself?

Ember Coffee Cups!


What's your favorite question to ask during job interviews?

I’m nosey in interviews, I want to know more about and understand what you’ve done, what you want to be, and who you are as a person.


What's your favorite typeface?

Calibri


How do you avoid team burnout?

Authenticate it, validate it, see it as real. Talk about it, embrace it, and strategize on how best to approach and tackle it. It is important to realize burnout and mental health is different for every human on the planet, and every team.


What's the song you listen to when you’re the most productive?

Either Shostakovich 10 or my favorite song right now, Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile.


A project from the past year that most excites you?

Surface Adaptive Kit.


What keeps you up at night?

Making sure products (in any form) are designed inclusively, and have the right expertise, people and their insight grounding it.


What gets you up in the morning?

I’m irritatingly excited in the mornings cause there is so much to do to bridge the disability divide and solve social inequities for people with disabilities.



What’s a piece of advice you’d give your younger self?

Just go for it and be more like a goldfish.



Design isn’t…?

Closing doors to humans, especially people with disabilities.



Design is…?

Opening doors to inclusion, especially for diverse talent like people with disabilities.