University of Minnesota Alumni Association


Making Technology Accessible to All

When Christina Granquist lost her sight, the U of M helped her develop skills to become an accessibility leader.

There have been a few moments in her life when Christina Granquist (B.S. ’13) believes she was in the right place at the right time.

Born blind due to a rare eye disease called Peters anomaly, Granquist underwent a corneal transplant when she was just an infant. The surgery helped her to see normally for years; then, when she was an undergraduate psychology major at the University, her eyesight began to falter.

Here’s where the first “right-place-right-time” moment happened: Granquist was taking a child psychology class when her professor told her about the Minnesota Laboratory for Low Vision Research, headed by Distinguished McKnight University Psychology Professor Gordon Legge.

Granquist contacted the lab and volunteered to take part in two of their studies. Lab staff were impressed by the enthusiastic, insightful young woman, and after she graduated, they quickly hired her as a lab assistant.

Landing the job at the Low Vision Lab felt like a stroke of luck to Granquist. She was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Legge, who himself has low vision: “He grew up in a time when there weren’t a lot of high expectations for folks with disabilities and he thrived. He believes that people can be whatever they want, and he knows how to give them the tools.”

When she began working at the lab, Granquist could still see with some limitations, but over time that changed. “When I was working in the lab, I very dramatically lost the rest of my vision,” she recalls. “I went from low vision to blind in a matter of days.” Though the experience set her back on her heels, Granquist adds with a quiet chuckle, “It’s hard to find a better place to lose your vision than in a low-vision lab. As you could imagine, I had an incredible amount of support.”

Working at the lab under Legge’s tutelage helped Granquist realize that she could handle the challenge that had been placed before her. In its own way, this was yet another “right-place-right-time” moment.

“When I lost my vision, I didn’t have people around me at work babying me and saying, ‘Oh no! I’m so sorry,’” she recalls. “Instead they said, ‘What can we do to help you continue with your work and move on?’ I didn’t want anyone to pity me. I just wanted to move on and go forward.”

Granquist felt she could’ve stayed at her lab job for years. But like all research positions, it was funded by a grant, and when that funding ran out, she needed to find another job. “I wanted to get ahead of it,” she says. “It is no secret that disabled folks have a hard time searching for work. I wanted to start early.”

Granquist and her companion and guide dog, Trinket.

Though she sent out several applications a week, she was having a hard time getting her foot in the door. Then—right-place-right-time No. 3—Granquist was contacted by U.S. Bank. People there knew her from when she had helped run a run a bank-funded study at the Low Vision Lab.

“They had this position open on their Accessibility Team and I came to mind as an interesting addition,” Granquist says. At first Granquist assumed the bank was calling to ask her to participate in another study: “I thought, ‘Sure. I’ll do it. I need the money.’ But then, they said, ‘Send us your resume.’ I was like, ‘Oh, a job.’ This fell in my lap.”

At U.S. Bank, Granquist today is an assistant vice president and accessibility consultant. Her role, which she sometimes describes as “a business job in tech,” focuses on making sure that the bank’s many technology platforms are equally accessible to all customers.

“We make sure the designers are not just thinking about a mythical customer in their 20s who is highly educated, supertechy, and able-bodied,” Granquist says. “Our job is to make sure that we are also thinking about our disabled customers and that their experience is prioritized as well.”

This approach is called “universal design,” she explains. Her goal is to help create technology that works for everyone— disabled or able-bodied. “Accessibility is best when it is baked into the design. It is not going to be obvious for folks who are not disabled. It works for as many people as possible.”

Because she feels indebted to the “right-place” people who’ve helped her out along the way, Granquist now makes a point of being there for others who need a hand. “Oftentimes someone will call me and say, ‘I know this person who is losing their vision and struggling. Will you talk to them?’” she says. She relishes the role of mentor, showing people that life doesn’t end with disability.

“Losing any ability is very emotional,” she says. “The natural reaction is to say, ‘How hard this must be,’ or ‘I’m so sorry’ and look at folks with pity. I try to look at it very positively. I like to remind people, ‘You can still do what you did before. You are just going to do it in a different way. It doesn’t mean your life is going to be any worse. You are going to be fine.’”

Andy Steiner is a freelance writer based in St. Paul and the author of How to Survive: The Extraordinary Resilience of Ordinary People.

The ADA at 30

When Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 30 years ago, the legislation was intended to help level the playing field for individuals with disabilities. On the anniversary of the Act’s passage in July, Christina Granquist reflected on the changes that have come about because of the law, and how it has helped her and countless others navigate work and fully participate in all aspects of life.

Granquist wrote a brief article for U.S. Bank about the act’s passage. In it, she noted, “Looking for work when you’re blind frankly sucks. Despite having confidence in my own abilities and experience, after more than six months of searching [I was still] mulling over how to best disclose my disability to hiring managers—‘Better to share it prior to my interviews so they wouldn’t be caught off-guard when I walked in my with my guide dog? Should I not acknowledge it at all, to ensure I at least get my foot in the door?’”

“The Americans with Disabilities Act is a wonderful piece of legislation that I benefit from every day. But laws only lay out what we must do,” she wrote. “What I think is so great about being a part of the user experience field is that we get to speak for what we should do” to make accessibility for all a reality.

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