BS, computer science, Webster University
BS, psychology, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
I am a digital accessibility engineer working to make the web accessible to everyone. I have been working in web development for two decades, getting my start at the Genome Sequencing Center at Washington University in St. Louis, MO (now known as McDonnell Genome Institute). There I developed various web-based programs, such as a search interface to the Human BAC Fingerprint Database (which allowed users to search for likely matches to specified clones) and a program to find corresponding Salmonella typhimurium and E. coli genes.
In 2001, I began working for a financial services firm, continuing to focus on web development for the next 14 years. There I did everything from front-end web development, customizing content-management systems, digital analytics programming, to web server configurations and more. It was during this time that I was introduced to web accessibility. For me it was an “aha” moment; I could now use my skills for good and make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities. My work instantly became more meaningful.
In 2015, I began working in the health care industry, specializing in web analytics and web accessibility. Ultimately, I became so passionate about accessibility, I made the choice to focus solely on building accessible websites. I am currently a consultant in the Optum Accessibility Center of Excellence, working with multiple web property teams to ensure their websites are accessible to people with disabilities.
Why did you choose to work at Optum (instead of any other tech company or health care company)?
I chose to work for Optum because there is executive-level leadership support for accessibility. Without this support, it is difficult for an accessibility program to be successful and impactful. I was also inspired by the values and mission of the company to make the health care system work better for everyone. This mission aligns very closely with my aspiration to ensure the web is accessible to everyone.
What’s one example of a really difficult problem in health care that are you solving using technology?
Although accessibility does not have a direct relationship with health care, our 280+ web properties are an integral part of the health care products and services we provide. I ensure our web properties are accessible, which allows people with disabilities to independently accomplish health care-related tasks such as viewing their claims, understanding their health care benefits, and finding a provider.
The Internet and web technologies have opened up a whole new world to people with disabilities. Consider the experience of people who are blind, before web technologies existed. If they wanted to read an explanation of benefits (EOB), they needed to request that the EOB be translated into Braille, which could be time-consuming and expensive. If they didn’t know Braille, they had to rely on another person to read the EOB to them, in which case their health information was no longer private. But today, we can make the EOB available on a password-protected, accessible website, and people who are blind can use screen reader software to read the EOB independently and privately. Using web technologies in this way, we are making a difference.
What are you passionate about when you’re not at work?
Outside of work I enjoy organizing, designing and building functional spaces in my home. I have an endless list of home projects. I’m also a year-round gardener, cultivating colorful flower beds and green spaces in every season. Beyond my home, I am very passionate about human rights and equality.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Perfection is unattainable but you are inherently worthy regardless. So be kind to yourself.