Celebrating abilities through technology. A local software engineer chose a career in coding to help adults with special needs succeed in their professional positions.

“You’re also thinking, ‘how could a person who is blind use this,'” said Melanie Sumner, a senior software engineer.

Making technology accessible for everyone. That is the entire focus of Melanie Sumner’s position at LinkedIn.

“LinkedIn is showing that commitment to accessibility really works. Our commitment to evolving and improving and we are kind of demonstrating what a commitment to accessibility looks like,” Sumner said.

Sumner left a career with the U.S. Navy to combine her love of coding with making a difference in the lives of people with disabilities.

“I was enlisted in the U.S. Navy. I was a cryptologic technician interpretive which basically means spy but it’s not the cool kind of spy. It’s the boring kind of spy. There was a point where I realized that I could either reenlist or end my enlistment and my heart wasn’t really into what I was doing so I knew it was time for a career change,” she said.

She is now using code to help those who are blind stay connected to their professional communities. Adding a written description to images, transcript of video and simplifying browsers to make it as easy as possible for those who are blind or hearing impaired to navigate a website.

“What kind of tool can we build to give engineers to make it easier for them to build accessible products. How can we make this less manual and more about a machine talking to another machine,” Sumner said.

Outside of work Sumner is part of organizations like the Chicago Digital Accessibility and Inclusive Design Meet Up. She is making sure she is sharing and receiving the latest information on accessible technology.

“We all kind of bring our experiences together and share it and create this really welcoming and inclusive community within Chicago,” she said.

Sumner hopes to find ways to spread what she has learned and teach the next generation of software engineers all about accessibility.

“Finding the way to make the idea of technology itself more accessible and easier to learn and those who know teach and that way, we are not just doing this ourselves we’re increasing by multiplying ourselves and teaching other people and increasing the number of people that can do this,” Sumner said.

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