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Q&A: Learn about the Michigan Ross MBA Alum and Student Who Are Designing for Disability Inclusion


Each year, National Disability Independence Day is recognized on July 26, the day when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed in 1990.

While much progress has been made toward disability inclusion since then, there is still work to be done in many areas of business and society. Two members of the Ross School of Business community are leveraging their skills and personal experiences to develop new innovations that can make their respective fields more inclusive for people with disabilities. 

Dr. Chris Connelly, MBA/MD ’22, is helping to make healthcare more accessible for people working in medicine, while Emily Obert, MBA ’24, is shaping the future of mobility to make vehicles more inclusive for those with disabilities and chronic illnesses.

Dr. Christopher Connolly, MBA/MD ’22

Program/grad year: Full-Time MBA ’22, dual degree with University of Michigan Medical School

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Job: Michigan Medicine, pediatrics and medical genetics resident physician

Tell us about the work you are doing to design with disability inclusion in mind.

I am creating adaptive devices to help individuals with disabilities pursue careers in healthcare. I am specifically designing modified physical exam tools that enable people with limited hand dexterity to serve patients in a clinical setting.

What inspired you to get involved in this work?

Cardiology Stethoscope Handle

I was always interested in pursuing a career in healthcare, but became an incomplete quadriplegic with limited hand dexterity in high school. Currently, individuals with specific disabilities (including quadriplegia) can be denied the ability to enroll in medical school because of physical requirements called the technical standards. Initially, after learning about this, I became very discouraged about my chances of getting into medical school. Instead of giving up, I started working with occupational therapists and rehabilitation engineers to come up with modified physical exam equipment so that I could complete my clinical responsibilities like any other medical student. While this work allowed me to convince medical school programs that I could function like any other medical student, I came across new challenges as I learned more about the day-to-day work of medical students and residents. As a first-year student, I learned that I needed to use a specific type of stethoscope called a cardiology stethoscope, which is difficult for me to hold. I realized that creating a 3D printed cardiology stethoscope handle could be a great solution to making accommodations for medical students because it does not require large-scale manufacturing, is highly customizable, and is relatively inexpensive. I hope that this device (along with others in development) may make more medical schools receptive to accepting individuals with different types of abilities.

How has what you have learned at Michigan Ross helped you with your work?

Coming into Michigan Ross, I had a strong clinical background, but lacked many of the basic business fundamentals to take a product from conception to reality. Ross’ core curriculum was exceptionally valuable because it gave me a strong foundation in finance, marketing, and accounting. These skills and experiences have been invaluable in terms of breaking down the non-clinical aspects of a problem, identifying barriers to implementation, and developing solutions to those barriers.

What progress has been made in making your workplace more inclusive?

Since I was admitted to medical school, several other students with disabilities have also been admitted to U-M. In addition, one of my adaptive devices (the 3D printed cardiology stethoscope handle) was patented and is currently sold by the university.

What organizations or people would you offer as examples of leaders in disability inclusion, and what sets those organizations or people apart?

Within the clinical healthcare industry, I think that Michigan Medicine is a true leader in terms of disability inclusion. Several of our clinical faculty have different types of disabilities and are more than willing to help advocate for students and mentor prospective students who are disabled. In addition, faculty associated with our medical school have a podcast and conduct research on how individuals with disabilities can be included in clinical responsibilities. Michigan Medicine is set apart as they take the time to consider how an institution may benefit from having individuals with disabilities involved in clinical workflows, instead of only considering what challenges may exist.

How can the Ross community learn more about supporting and creating inclusive environments for people with disabilities?

In general, I think people are often uncomfortable around people with disabilities and do not go out of their way to make meaningful connections with people who have disabilities. This is truly unfortunate, as people with disabilities are often underserved, which creates unique opportunities, especially in the innovation and entrepreneurial setting.

I would strongly encourage members of the Ross community to create meaningful connections with people who have different types of disabilities, learn about the challenges they face, and collaborate with them on products and services that can serve the disabled community.

Dr. Chris Connelly, MBA/MD ’22


Emily Obert, MBA ’24

Photo credit: Julianne Lindsey

Program/grad year: Weekend MBA ’24

Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland

Job: Ford Motor Co., Ford Next accessibility lead

Tell us about the work you are doing to design with disability inclusion in mind.

At Ford, I am leading accessibility for autonomous vehicles and other types of new mobility. My role is about developing a strategy and roadmap to make sure that the voices of people with disabilities are included during our product development process from the earliest stages of design through testing and feedback. For example, a project I was working on recently included considerations of vehicle interior spaciousness from a wheelchair user perspective, but the work does not stop there. I love the point where hardware meets software meets the customer, and I think about the experiences of our customers, including those with disabilities, holistically.  

What inspired you to get involved in this work? 

I had originally been working on accessibility as a side project while leading our employee resource group, Ford Empowering Diverse Abilities. The work was becoming more and more of my job until it became clear that my perspective and expertise was needed to be focused full-time on accessibility. One of my favorite parts of leading our employee resource group was learning about the experiences of other disabled employees. The diversity of people with disabilities and chronic illness motivates me to create more inclusive products. 

How has what you are learning at Michigan Ross helped you with your work?

I’m at the very beginning of my MBA journey at Ross. I’m especially looking forward to classes on strategy, bargaining and influencing skills, and leadership. Already, my marketing class has given me new language and frameworks to use while working with our marketing and brand teams to be more inclusive. 

What progress has been made in making your workplace more inclusive?

The members of our employee resource groups have been instrumental in advocating for more inclusive policies and behaviors at Ford. For disability specifically, I’m happy to say that we have an inclusive hiring program called FordWorks that provides on-the-job training and employment opportunities to neurodiverse individuals. If you are curious to learn more, the Human Capital and DEI section of our sustainability report gives a great overview of how Ford is making progress.

What organizations or people would you offer as examples of leaders in disability inclusion, and what sets those organizations or people apart?

I really respect the work of Jenny Lay-Flurrie, the chief accessibility officer at Microsoft, and KR Liu, the head of brand accessibility at Google. Jenny and KR are both passionate advocates for accessibility in technology. Their leadership has brought an authenticity to their respective companies and proven the business case for disability inclusion.

How can the Ross community learn more about supporting and creating inclusive environments for people with disabilities?

Disability:IN is a nonprofit focused on disability inclusion in business. I just got back from their annual conference and would recommend it as a great place to get started. Access to Success published a report called “State of Disability Inclusion in MBA Programs” that has many recommendations to improve inclusion of students with disabilities in business schools. #CriticalAxis, from The Disabled List, is a resource I use to understand positive and negative disability representation in media, with a focus on advertising. Some of my favorite books are Disability Visibility, Demystifying Disability, Being Heumann, Sitting Pretty and Mismatch. All of them share experiences of people with disabilities and teach a lot about creating a more inclusive world with lessons for in and out of the business environment. 

Learn more about the Michigan Ross Full-Time MBA Program

Learn more about the Michigan Ross Weekend MBA Program

In this series
  1. Meet Three Michigan Ross OMBA Students Who Are Groundbreaking Women Leaders in Their Industries
  2. Q&A: Three Full-Time MBAs Who Are Members of the Michigan Ross Energy Club
  3. Q&A: Checking in With Three Asian American Business Association Members for Asian American and Pacific Islander History Month
  4. Q&A: Michigan Ross BBAs in Out For Business Discuss Supporting LGBTQ+ Students in Business School, Being an OFB Member, Pride Month, and More
  5. Q&A: Michigan Ross MBA Students Discuss the Challenges They Face as Nonprofit Leaders, the Skills They Hope to Learn at Ross, Advice for People Interested in Social Impact Work, and More
  6. Q&A: Celebrating the Trailblazing Michigan Ross Students Who Were the First in Their Families to Attend College For National First-Gen Day
  7. Q&A: MBA Students in the Armed Forces Association Sound Off About Attending Michigan Ross as Veterans, Being an AFA Member, and More
  8. Q&A: Michigan Ross MBAs in the Black Business Students Association Share Their Thoughts Ahead of Black History Month
  9. Q&A: Meet the Michigan Ross Students Leading the BBA DEI Committee Who Are Working to Create a More Inclusive Community
  10. Q&A: Celebrating Michigan Ross Women From Around the World for International Women’s Day
  11. Q&A: How the Och Initiative Has Supported These Michigan Ross BBA Women to Pursue Their Interests in Finance
  12. Earth Month Q&A: All About the Erb Institute’s Undergraduate Program From Four Michigan Ross BBA Fellows
  13. Q&A: Reflections from Michigan Ross AABA Members For Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
  14. Q&A: Hear From Eight Michigan Ross All-Star Student Athletes on U-M’s Powerhouse Sports Teams this Year
  15. Q&A: Michigan Ross MBAs in Out For Business Share Important Insights for Pride Month
  16. Q&A: Learn about the Michigan Ross MBA Alum and Student Who Are Designing for Disability Inclusion
  17. Q&A: Hear from Six Michigan Ross Students Who Participated in a Business+Impact-Funded Internship this Summer
  18. Q&A: What Eight Michigan Ross MBAs Have to Say About their Cool Internships this Summer
  19. Q&A: I Talked with Six of My Peers to Hear Why Other In-State BBAs Chose Michigan Ross and U-M for College