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Google LLC

"How I’m making Maps better for wheelchair users like me" - Sasha Blair-Goldensohn

Below is an article originally written by Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, Software Engineer at PowerToFly Partner Google, and published on December 3, 2019. Go to Google's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

If you visit a city and don't see anyone using a wheelchair, it doesn't mean they're not there. It means the city hasn't been built in such a way as to let them be part of things. I know this firsthand: I'm one of 65 million people around the world who uses a wheelchair, and I see every day how a city's infrastructure can prevent people like me from being active, visible members of society.

On July 29, 2009, I was taking my usual morning walk through New York's Central Park when a dead tree branch snapped and fell on my head. The spinal damage partly paralyzed my lower body. I spent the next seven months in the hospital, where I got the first glimpse of what my life would be like from then on. I was going to use a wheelchair for the rest of my life—and my experience as a born and bred New Yorker was about to change forever.

That's because much of the city isn't accessible for people like me. Fewer than one in four subway stations in New York City have wheelchair access. And plenty of places, from restaurants to schools, lack a way for me to even get inside. It was humbling to realize these barriers had been there throughout my growing up in New York; I simply hadn't noticed.

Those realizations were in my mind when I returned to work in 2011 as an engineer on the Search team, especially because I could no longer take my usual subway route to work. However, the more I shared with colleagues, the more I found people who wanted to help solve real-world access needs. Using "20 percent time"—time spent outside day-to-day job descriptions—my colleagues like Rio Akasaka and Dianna Hu pitched in and we launched wheelchair-friendly transit directions. That initial work has now led to a full-time team dedicated to accessibility on Maps.

I've also collaborated with another group of great allies, stretching far beyond Google. For the past several years, I've worked with our Local Guides, a community of 120 million people worldwide who contribute information to Google Maps. By answering questions like "Does this place have a wheelchair accessible entrance," Local Guides help people with mobility impairments decide where to go. Thanks to them, we can now provide crowdsourced accessibility information for more than 50 million places on Google Maps. At our annual event last year and again several weeks ago, I met some amazing Guides--like Emeka from Nigeriaand Ilankovan from Sri Lanka--who have become informal accessibility ambassadors themselves, promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities in their communities around the world.

Today, on International Day of Persons With Disabilities, I hope our work to make Google Maps more inclusive underscores what Angela Glover Blackwell wrote so powerfully about in "The Curb-Cut Effect." When we build with accessibility in mind, it doesn't just help people with disabilities. It helps everyone. Curb cuts in sidewalks don't just help me cross the street—they also help parents pushing strollers, workers with deliveries and tourists with suitcases. As Blackwell puts it, building equity is not a zero-sum game—everyone benefits.

The people in wheelchairs you don't see in your city? They've been shut out, and may not be able to be a part of society because their environment isn't accessible. And that's not merely a loss for them. It's a loss for everyone, including friends, colleagues and loved ones of people with disabilities. I'm grateful to those who stay mindful of the issues faced by people like me to ensure that our solutions truly help the greater community.

Google LLC

"How Google made me proud to be out at work" - Mistral Myers

Below is an article originally written by Mistral Myers, Keyword contributor at PowerToFly Partner Google, and published on October 11, 2019. Go to Google's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

Until I started working at Google in 2014, I had never been out at work.

Now, less than five years later, everything is different: I'm an active volunteer leader in Google's LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group—a Googler-run, company-supported organization that works to provide an inclusive workplace for LGBTQ+ employees, and partners closely with our Trans Employee Resource Group, which represents our transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary colleagues. As part of my role, I've had the chance to engage LGBTQ+ Googlers across our global offices, speak publicly about being LGBTQ+ in the workplace and have even been able to share my perspectives and experiences directly with Google leadership.

At this point, I can barely remember what it felt like to not be a visible, openly LGBTQ+ person at work. So it's hard to imagine that before joining Google, I felt I couldn't come out at the office at all.

As we celebrate National Coming Out Day and reflect on all of the progress we've made as a community, I am determined to remember this simple but crucial reality: Openness matters. Community matters. Being able to be out at work matters.

Googlers create signs supporting the LGBTQ+ community for the 2017 New York City Pride March.

Prior to joining Google, I'd spent time in a variety of industries, always under the careful, polite policy of evasion when it came to questions about my personal life. Perhaps I didn't need to be so secretive. I worked with wonderful, kind people, and though there were no explicit shows of support for LGBTQ+ issues from my workplace, I'm sure most of my colleagues and managers wouldn't have taken issue with my identity.

Still, for many LGBTQ+ folks, the fear of prejudice can nag at you, and cause you to hesitate even around the most well-meaning of coworkers. Some assume that with the ushering in of marriage equality here in the U.S., other kinds of inequality have disappeared and the movement is complete. But as many LGBTQ+-identifying people will tell you, critical challenges still remain, and it takes a conscious and dedicated effort to counteract their effects.

Growing up in New Mexico, I got an early introduction to some of the challenges that LGBTQ+ people still so often face: harassment, discrimination, violence. The understanding that being LGBTQ+ was unsafe was imprinted on me almost immediately, and that fear left a lasting mark.

In each new city, from college to a job to graduate school to another job, I was reminded (often in not-so-subtle ways) that no matter what might change in the law or in popular culture, I should always be wary, always be careful.

So I never took the chance.

In so many important ways, restraining from bringing my full self to work hurt my ability to be a good employee. Constantly worrying about slipping up and revealing that I had a girlfriend rather than a boyfriend prevented me from feeling fully integrated. It became an obstacle to forming the kinds of professional relationships that help company culture feel cohesive and supportive.

Now, I realize how much I was missing. Today, I'm part of a workplace with visible LGBTQ+ leaders, explicit shows of support for LGBTQ+ cultural moments and celebrations and broad encouragement to use what makes me different to create an environment of inclusion for my fellow Googlers. This journey has made me realize how much all workplaces can benefit from supporting their employees' differences, just as much as they celebrate their collective unity.

I'm proud. I hope you are, too.

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