Laura Allen, leveling the playing field with more accessible technology
Editor's note: The She Word is a Keyword series all about dynamic and creative women at Google.
In honor of National Disability Awareness Month in the U.S., we’re talking to Laura Allen, a program manager for Chrome accessibility. Laura shares how technology changed everything for her, and how she is working to level the playing field for everyone with more accessible technology.
How do you explain your job at a dinner party?
I help make Chrome and Chrome OS more accessible to everyone, including our users with disabilities.
How does that show up in Google products?
I work alongside product managers, designers and engineers to integrate accessibility into our processes and develop assistive technologies like magnification options, Braille support and dictation in Chromebooks.
How has technology been a force for good in your life?
I have a rare visual condition that caused me to lose central vision in both of my eyes right before I started high school. All of a sudden, I couldn’t read textbooks, see the classroom board or recognize my friends’ faces in the hallway.
After school my family would read my classwork out loud to me, and my dad would teach me math. It was the definition of dependence, but at that time, there was no other way. Eventually we started stripping the pages out of textbooks and scanning them, so I could use text-to-speech software to do my classwork. The process was messy, but it changed everything for me. It was then that I realized the true value of technology and how it could pivot the trajectory of someone’s life.
What advice do you have for women starting out in their careers?
Pay attention to what makes you tick. Take note of what makes you excited, then try to add more of that to your life. Initially, I worked in sales at Google and focused on accessibility as a 20 percent project. Working on accessibility filled me up with a different kind of energy that I hadn’t experienced before. I had to listen to those signals to get to where I am today, and I’m so thankful to be here.
What motivates you in your career?
I was so lucky to have my family to help me overcome those initial hurdles and navigate the world of assistive technology to regain my independence, but not everyone has that kind of support system. We can’t leave the opportunity for success and fulfillment up to chance. I see technology as a great equalizer—if we can improve access to the world’s information and build with accessibility in mind, then we will be that much closer to creating a truly level playing field for all.
Photo of Laura talking with young students in a classroom at the California School for the Blind
What’s one habit that makes you successful?
I write down what I want to create space for each week, then I block time on my calendar to dedicate to those things whether it’s something I want to research or an old friend I want to reconnect with.
Who has been a strong female influence in your life?
This might be sappy, but I have to say my mom. She has always led by example and focused on the positive. She is a physical therapist for newborns and young children with developmental disabilities. The level of impact that she has had in her life is truly unbelievable. I always think of her dedication to people as individuals, and the amount of heart she puts into her work.