Working Without Limits
Whitney McWherter Cranna, a 2022 post-professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy graduate, is a consultant for eBay where she is working to improve disability inclusion practices at the e-commerce company.
By Kate Chaney
Office of Strategic Communications
For Whitney McWherter Cranna, disability inclusion isn’t just about supporting the individual – it’s about creating systemic change, understanding that stigmatization limits opportunity, and asking the fundamental questions:
“Why are we always focused on the individual with the disability? Why are we always putting the burden on them to fit into the environment, rather than having the environment adapt in response?”
The 2022 MGH Institute of Health Professions alumna is taking those questions – and an innovative approach – to eBay where she plans on helping create a more inclusive environment for employees with disabilities.
“It’s gratifying to see a company this prominent take disability issues so seriously,” said McWherter Cranna. “eBay clearly wants to make a difference in the lives of disabled employees; it wants to make accessibility and inclusion attributes that people don’t have to give a second thought to because they are ingrained in the culture.”
McWherter Cranna, a Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy graduate, is a consultant to eBay’s “Access Community of Inclusion” program, which focuses on improving disability inclusion and accessibility for consumers and employees. In her role, she will hold workshops to revamp the group’s programming to improve awareness, education and understanding about mental health, neurodiversity, physical disabilities, and chronic illness.
“I want to empower business professionals to feel comfortable and confident in taking a proactive inclusive approach – there are a million creative ways to do it,” says McWherter Cranna. “This can include using closed captioning on audiovisual content during meetings in case anyone is hard of hearing, having a variety of seating and desk options in the built work environment, or more carefully considering hiring and onboarding approaches.”
She notes that it is going to be quite a challenge, but she’s looking forward to it.
eBay brought McWherter Cranna aboard because of her drive to change the way Corporate America thinks about and treats those with disabilities. Against the grain, McWherter Cranna wants the business environment to adapt to the disabled employee.
And eBay is on board.
“Whitney is bringing her academic knowledge, personal experience and structure to the programming we want to provide employees with internally, around disability awareness and conversation to normalize stigmas,” said Nicki Tsang, the Accessibility Community of Inclusion Lead at eBay.
A Passion for Occupational Therapy Born and Nurtured
Born into a military family, McWherter Cranna moved around often as a child and was always tasked with conforming to new environments. As the daughter of a special education teacher, McWherter Cranna knew she was able to assimilate more easily than others, but she questioned why the world placed the burden of acclimating on the people with disabilities, instead of the other way around.
McWherter Cranna took her interest in health care to the University of Notre Dame, where she majored in psychology. One day while working in an inclusive lab with preschool children, she was exposed directly to the work of occupational therapists and was instantly hooked. Their focus on celebrating the individual, recognizing that person’s unique strengths, and empowering the individual to reach his or her own goals was eye-opening.
“Occupational therapists are bridge builders, really,” McWherter Cranna said. “They offer support where it’s needed most, and make sure every person they encounter knows they are capable of reaching their goals. I knew I wanted to be a part of that.”
After Notre Dame, McWherter Cranna earned her Master of Sciences in Occupational Therapy from Boston University, where she realized disability inclusion is both about supporting the individual and creating systemic change to support the population more broadly.
The realization that there was a better way led McWherter Cranna to apply to the Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy (PPOTD) program at the IHP. Her previous experience working with Sarah McKinnon, Assistant Professor and Program Director, while at BU made the decision an easy one, as did the remote learning opportunity the program offered.
It was here at the IHP that McWherter Cranna could finally solidify her goal – to create a business world that better supports individuals with disabilities. McWherter Cranna says the guidance she received at the IHP allowed her to better understand exactly how she could make this change.
“Disability participation is such a complex issue, and I needed support in outlining the themes that play into this and ultimately, identifying my mission,” said McWherter Cranna. “The PPOTD program taught me how to think about tackling large-scale change in the healthcare landscape – what to think about, who to collaborate with. The program was also invaluable because it guided me through the literature synthesis – which was a massive undertaking.”
A Bold Goal – Encouraging Corporate America Re-Think Its Approach
In conducting research, McWherter Cranna discovered that there weren’t many examples to follow. She became keenly aware of the fact that targeting the business world – and the world as a whole – as opposed to those with disabilities, was a new approach to an old problem.
“Whitney's work is a completely unique way to impact positive change for people with disabilities on a monumental scale,” said McKinnon, who served as McWherter Cranna’s mentor in the program. “Instead of a traditional approach to address the individual, she opted to target future employers. Now, she has an opportunity to put it to use within corporations that employ thousands of individuals worldwide.”
Following her work with eBay, McWherter Cranna plans to continue training others to better support the disabled community in the workplace. This fall, she’ll head back to her alma mater Notre Dame for a conference at which she’ll share this insight and guidance.
Her overarching goal is to encourage corporations around the country to change their approach, integrate individuals with disabilities, and reframe the way they include those of differing abilities in their culture.
“I feel like I’m working towards my biggest goals that once seemed unattainable,” McWherter Cranna shared. “The support and guidance I received at the IHP showed me that these goals were not only possible, but completely attainable.”