Student Spotlight: Caroline Graves
TXADPR had the pleasure of interviewing Caroline Graves, a senior at UT who is not only excelling tremendously in her career, but also has dedicated time and passion to advocate for individuals with disabilities, particularly on UT’s campus. Caroline is someone who works hard and has accomplished so much already. TXADPR is extremely excited to see where she goes next!
You just completed working with Google as a BOLD Intern. Can you explain this experience and what you did during this time? How do you feel that equal accessibility for all was integrated into your experience there? What did you learn during your time there?
Yes, it was a really exciting opportunity! At Google, I worked as a BOLD Global Customer Care (GCC) intern. My core role revolved around directly helping advertisers using Google Ads-related products. I helped people plan their ad campaigns and also assisted people who were having issues with their account setup.
I also contributed to several other side projects. One of my favorites was working with other GCC interns on a newsletter about our internship experience. It went out weekly and was even recognized by the VP of GCC! I also had the opportunity to work with other Googlers on two presentations: one about accessibility, and the other about the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act back in July. That was an amazing experience, and I loved getting to work with other people who were passionate about disability issues to put that presentation together!
I learned a lot at Google- specifically, a lot of product-related knowledge about Google Ads, Google Analytics, YouTube, Google Shopping, and other platforms. However, I gained more than just product knowledge from this experience: I learned how to communicate my accomplishments to others, and how to communicate with customers and coworkers. I learned how to speak up about what I'm passionate about, even if the corporate environment at my internship was very different than the university one I'm used to. If anything, those lessons are what I'm most thankful for learning during my time at Google.
Your advocacy during your time as a student at UT for individuals with disabilities has been incredible. Can you explain a few accomplishments you have reached with this advocacy and the experience you have had at UT regarding these goals?
One of my proudest accomplishments at UT was working with the Disability Advocacy Student Coalition last December (in 2019) to present to the ADA Committee on campus. We worked hard for months compiling evidence to create a presentation about inaccessible places on campus that we thought funds should be allocated towards to fix. The committee budget came out this summer and it was great to see that a lot of what we advocated for received funding!
I'm also proud of the way that DASC and other disability-related groups on campus have made an effort to increase awareness of disability issues and disability in general. For instance, in the fall of 2018, DASC created an event called Disability Fest, where we celebrate people with disabilities and educate others on what it's like to live with various disabilities through experiential stations. While this event won't be held this semester because of COVID-19, I'm proud that Disability Fest has remained a DASC staple and that the event has continued to grow and evolve over the years. I am proud of, and I'm sure will continue to be proud of, all of the hard work that disabled students have done on this campus to make UT a more accessible place for people with disabilities.
What are your plans after graduation? Does advocacy hold a place in those plans?
I actually just received a full-time offer from Google to work as an Ads Account Strategist; I'm super excited to work for Google again! While my role may not directly revolve around disability advocacy, I know that it will still be a huge part of my career. I found ways to talk about and get involved with disability rights-related issues and groups during my time at Google, and I'm looking forward to continuing that advocacy there full-time!
How would you describe the opportunities for individuals with disabilities in the PR industry? What is the key to ensuring a company is compliant with all equal access and equal opportunity laws and standards?
I think the important thing for any business or industry to do, including the PR industry, is to make accessibility and equity for disabled people central to your organization or company. When you have that mindset, you can guarantee that everyone is included and receives the access they need. I would also like companies to center their disabled employees' voices on these matters of inaccessibility. It is only by listening to disabled people that you can make your organization truly accessible and equitable.
For the PR industry in particular, I think it is important to actively hire disabled people to work at your agency or business. I would also encourage agencies and other organizations to focus on disability representation and inclusion in their programming and materials. The more that disability as a subject is included and centered in the conversation, the more that people will be encouraged to actively think about how to be better allies to the disabled community in their own lives.
In an article on Medium.com, I read that you discussed what an ally on campus could be. If a student experiences ableism or hears of it on campus, how do you suggest they approach the situation and educate on the topic?
I feel like every ableist situation calls for a different, specialized response. However, if I could sum up my thoughts, to be an ally, I'd say that 1) speak up whenever you can, 2) center people with disabilities in your advocacy and 3) always work to be learning and unlearning.
For instance, if someone makes an ableist remark, gently correct the person. When you're planning an event, think about how it should be accessible for disabled folks and actively make it so. Just make a conscious effort to think about how to include people with disabilities in whatever you're doing, and how to center our voices and opinions. I think that's important.
As for the learning piece of it, I'm still learning every single day about the internalized ableism I harbor, and how I can be a better advocate for the disability community. I learn a lot by going to meetings on campus that disability-related orgs are holding, or just by talking to different disabled people. I think doing this type of thing is essential to being a better advocate.
It's not easy, but advocating for others, centering disabled people in your advocacy efforts, and always being willing to be educated about disability issues are essential tasks to being an effective ally and being an advocate for the disability community at large.
Where do you see your career path taking you? I see that you are a double major. Do you plan to focus on government or PR in your career?
Hopefully, both! I've enjoyed being a double major because I am interested in both of these subject areas and love the intersection between the two. Right now, I am interested to see where my career at Google leads, but I love the idea of concentrating on public policy and PR somehow in the future, advocating for disabled people in areas like education and healthcare! I've also thought about going into educational psychology. If there's one thing I've learned throughout college though, it's that the best plans are often... not what you planned. I'm just happy to see where God leads me!
I would love to get to know a few things about you that we did not cover. Do you have any specific passions or interests that you may have not discussed in previous articles covered about you?
I enjoy writing, and if possible, I would have loved to add on Radio-Television-Film as a third major, because I like pretending that I'm a film critic a little too much. Additionally, I'm a huge UT Football fan and have grand plans for my Animal Crossing island right now! I also got a little into painting this summer, so I might try to pick that up again.