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Accessibility advocate and disabled veteran reflects on diversity, kindness

Class of 2023 commencement ceremonies set for June 10-11

Keslie Carrion in an Army uniform, at a work event with a banner that reads Black Initiatives Group SAS BIG, and posing out doors against a tree
Keslie Carrión is a disabled veteran and will graduate from DePaul this June and have accepted a full-time job with software company SAS. (Image courtesy of Keslie Carrión)
Keslie Carrión is getting more comfortable with being handed the microphone. “All my life I’ve had a big problem with imposter syndrome,” Carrión says. “But something I’ve discovered in my 30s is that when I speak, people do listen.”

This June, Carrión will graduate from DePaul University with a master’s degree in human-computer interaction and will serve as student speaker for the Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media, addressing the Class of 2023​ and their loved ones. At the heart of Carrión’s commencement message is the importance of being kind and the power of diversity to shape America’s future.

“My entire life, I’ve been surrounded by immigrants. I grew up next to the Statue of Liberty believing that the whole point of America was to bring different cultures and people together, and to celebrate them,” Carrión says.

Finding tech in unexpected places
Carrión grew up in the Bronx with their mother, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic. Their home had an old Gateway computer, and at Christmas Carrión would ask for a video game console or the latest games. “I had been a gamer forever without really labeling it. Turns out I’ve always been into tech,” Carrión says.

Applying that passion to a career took some trial and error. As an undergraduate, Carrión entered an electrical engineering program, but it wasn’t a good fit with the rigorous schedule of an ROTC cadet. They settled on political science, but always yearned to return to technology.

After suffering injuries during airborne operations, Carrión separated from the U.S. Army as an officer in 2020. It was the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Carrión was looking for a flexible, online program. They found DePaul’s School of Computing and appreciated the university’s status as a Yellow Ribbon School, which helps bridge tuition gaps for eligible students in private colleges.

“It was really important to me that DePaul offered this remote option,” Carrión says. “Being a disabled veteran, it’s difficult to even drive places. With this program, I could be at home and control my environment, for the most part.”

In faculty member Cynthia Putnam’s course Accessibility Considerations, Carrión conducted user testing on the City of Chicago’s COVID-19 website. They found places where blind or visually impaired people would not be able to access information, and the experience inspired Carrión’s career plans.

“My goal is to work in accessibility, and it’s a broad umbrella” Carrión says. “Disabilities are as diverse as people are, and that's something I really enjoy exploring.”

Keslie Carrion in army fatigues with a group of others during a training exercise
Keslie Carrión separated from the U.S. Army in 2020 after suffering injuries. They are now lead user experience designer for Gamers for Peace. (Image courtesy of Keslie Carrión)
Since last summer, Carrión has been interning with the SAS Institute, a data analytics company based in North Carolina. After graduation, they will start a full-time position at SAS. Carrión praises the company for its employee inclusion and diversity efforts and recently spoke to a group of 200 managers. “I took part in a panel to help managers better understand how to support their disabled employees. I wanted to share the message that all people have unique abilities and limitations, disabled or not, and that everyone is deserving of genuine human connection.”

Adapting their environment has been central to Carrión’s success at DePaul. Based in North Carolina, Carrión has taken all DePaul coursework online, mostly tuning in to synchronous, hybrid classes held in Chicago. Faculty at DePaul were skilled at the hybrid mode, and in turn Carrión was an active participant.

“Keslie is one of those students I get every year who reinvigorates my passion for teaching,” Putnam says. “They demonstrated great care and compassion in their interaction with other students and exhibited a commitment to turning in high-quality work.”

Carrión has also been adept at developing friendships and community. They are the lead user experience designer of Gamers for Peace, an organization critical of the U.S. military’s recruitment tactics, which have included using video games to target young people.

“We have mental health practitioners on our team, and we talk about PTSD and the true costs of war, and that it’s not like a video game,” Carrión says. The group streams on Twitch and has a Discord server where they hang out and plan events. Carrión’s capstone project is to design a website for the group alongside their teammates from DePaul’s human-computer interaction program: Jessie Lovell, Claire Nosal, and Veronika Nowak.

Celebrating in Chicago
While Carrión has connected with many faculty and classmates online, commencement will be their first visit to Chicago. Putnam shared DePaul’ pride for Carrión and their accomplishments: “Keslie’s determination, fastidiousness and kindness reflect very well on DePaul and the School of Computing.”

They’re looking forward to attending the Lavender graduation ceremony for LGBTQIA+ graduates and touring the city with loved ones—and even exploring the possibility of relocating here. As Carrión puts the finishing touches on their commencement remarks, they are also reflecting on care for one another.

“I believe in kindness. It doesn’t matter what you look like or what you do, where you’re from: Everybody has problems, and the world is really tough,” Carrión says. “I’m hoping to leverage my experiences to share something positive.” 

Information about DePaul’s June commencement ceremonies is available online.


Media Contact:
Kristin Claes Mathews