Transcript: John Samuel’s interview with Erica Crane

John Samuel (00:10): Hi, my name is John Samuel, and
I’m the host of all access. With John Samuel, the  show where we share the stories of entrepreneurs,
leaders, advocates, and people who are just  improving the lives for people of all abilities.
Today, we have a special guest with Erica Crane.  Who’s on the culture and diversity team at Lowe’s
and somebody who I got to meet a year ago during  national disability employment awareness month
when I was speaking at Lowe’s and  I’m so excited to have her here
and have her share her story. So  thank you, Erica, for joining us.

Erica Crane (00:39): Thank you. Thank you
for having me. I appreciate it. I  appreciate you inviting me to be here.
John Samuel (00:45): No, thank you again, you know,
last year, you and I met during  National Disability Employment
Awareness month, an event that Lowe’s was hosting in Morrisville, North Carolina.
And I got to hear your story and now we  are celebrating it again this year in 2020,
it’s a little bit different feeling rather than  being in person with each other, but I’d love to
just hear, just to learn a little bit more about  yourself and you know, what you do at Lowe’s,
Erica Crane (01:11): There’s so much that I can unpack with that question. And, um, so what I would like to begin with  is most people probably wouldn’t know this, but
I am deaf, um, I lost, Um, my hearing  when I was 21 months old, um, however,
my parents when I lost my hearing , um, they  didn’t know until like I was in preschool,
kindergarten. Um, so I ended up getting sick with  Spinal Meningitis when I was 21 months old and I
ended up having a fever of 107 for  about 16 days so I was hospitalized.
They found out when I was about preschool,  kindergarten timeframe. Um, the teacher
noticed that I was not responding. And, um, and  answering questions when they called my name or,
um, just wasn’t responding so they recommended  that my parents get my hearing tested
and they did. And they found out I was profoundly deaf, um, but that’s what my papers say.
Erica Crane (02:06): But, um, back then in, in the eighties,
if you remember that timeframe, um, there wasn’t  a whole lot of, um, spotlight on disabilities, on
deaf and hard of hearing so. My parents did what  they could for me. And they took me to an
Audiologist. Of course, at the time they never  said anything about sign language. Never mentioned
it to my parents. It was not a thing. Um, so they  put hearing aids on me, they tested me to see if
that could, Um, have a cochlear implant. Um, they  decided not to do that because if they did I would have lost any little  bit of hearing that I had, and
they said that it may not work. So they  put me in speech therapy, I did speech therapy
from like kindergarten all the way up to fifth  grade um, I hated it to be honest. I really hated it
but I’m glad that they did that because I  feel like I’ve learned how to speak better. It’s
it’s hard, um, most, um, deaf and hard of hearing  people decide not to use their voice. Um, but with
my experience and how I grew up, I mean, they mainstreamed me in public schools. They, you know,
put hearing aids on me they, uh, so I was in  a hearing world. So that’s what I’m used to.
John Samuel (03:34): Quick question on that. I mean,
why do you think it was that you didn’t like about  it? Like, what was it, was it difficult? Was it,
I mean, what were the challenges  that you were facing there?
Erica Crane (03:43): So if you think about it, um,
all right, just to put yourself in  my shoes, uh, just growing up, uh,
I, I’ll take a step back, um, elementary school was pretty good, I had wonderful friends. Um,
so when my dad ended up moving, um, to North  Carolina when I was in fifth grade, I was going
into fifth grade. And if you think about the middle school years and the high school years,
that’s a difficult time, especially to change schools. So here I am a teenager, I’m
in a new school. We moved to North Wilkesboro, North  Carolina, and it’s a very small town and I started
sixth grade and I decided, I’m not going to do speech therapy. I’m starting a new school. I’m
not going to do it. I don’t, I don’t want anybody to know that I’m deaf. I had not accepted, but
I hated it. I used to blame God, but I would definitely, I just didn’t understand it.
Erica Crane (04:41): I didn’t know anybody
else that was deaf and hard of hearing. And  so I felt there was something wrong with me,
you know? And, uh, I never had a friend to be  able to share the same experiences that I’ve gone
through. I never felt like I belonged. And it was  very hard. It was very hard, in my teenage years.
And it was very traumatic. If you think  about it and the reason why I wanted,
I didn’t want anybody to know was because I ended  up going through a lot of bullying. Um, one of the
teachers in middle school actually outed me in  music class, um, told people that I was deaf
and, and, um, of course that’s hard on my parents too, you know,
I mean, that’s wrong, you shouldn’t  do that. Um, but from then on, I mean,
people were just mean they bullied me,  they made fun of me. I did what I could.
Erica Crane (05:33): I sat in front of class. I,
I really wanted to do well in school. And I  made all A’s and B’s, and I did what I could to,
you know, to read lips, because that’s all I knew  I taught myself at a young age how to read lips.
That’s how I had to survive was by lip-reading.  And when I was in high school, they finally got
me, some, um, like note-takers and then, so  that I can have somebody take notes for me
so I can pay attention to the teacher. Um, and,  um, beyond that an FM system, and
then they brought this lady in and she was deaf herself and her name was Beth Moore and she,
she actually introduced me to sign language. So  I started with a book. Yeah. An ASL book. And
to teach me signs and I loved it, I got to the  point where to learn signs I was learning songs.
So I went to Church and I was teaching myself the  songs in sign language. So my church, of course,
loved when I was able to perform with the  youth choir and I was signing the songs, um,
while they were singing. And so I just fell in  love with sign language and I wish, you know,
my parents knew about it back then. Maybe my life  would have been easier. Maybe I could have been
immersed in some of the deaf culture and met some  of the kids. And not feel like I had to hide it.
John Samuel (07:02): No, I mean, hearing your story of belonging,
you know, um, I couldn’t imagine as a child, you  know, my, my, my experience was later in life
where I had, you know, you know,  later, past college and into my, my,
my career, when I at least had some, you know,  I had a good group of friends and support,
you know, support network that I gained during  those, those, uh, those instrumental years of
middle school and high school, which, you know,  where your experience is completely different,
where you didn’t have that network. And I  can’t imagine what you had to go through.
Erica Crane (07:36): I mean, yeah. I mean, if you think about
a person like me could have gone a very different  path. I mean, I could have been depressed. I mean,
it is traumatic. I do have triggers, there  are times when I’ll be in my chair at work
and I’ll just start crying and  because something upset me and it’s because
I had a traumatic experience As a  child and growing up and I don’t have the support,
but you know, sometimes that, the tears  are also happy tears,
because I do have a lot of support now. Um, yeah.  So when, when, when that person that came into my
life and introduced me to sign language, she also  opened my eyes to meeting some other deaf people.
So when I was in high school, when you  start looking around for colleges, um,
she, she introduced me to Lenoir Rhyne University  here in North Carolina in Hickory. When I went to
college there, um, there was a deaf and hard  of hearing services and quite a few students at
at the school that were deaf and hard of hearing. So if  you imagine me, all my life not knowing
anybody that’s deaf, and then coming to the deaf  open house and just it was a culture shock almost.
Erica Crane (08:54): I was so happy. I mean, I didn’t want
to even look at any other school. I did not care  about any other school. I wanted to go there and
I met some great people and, you know, I love  it. I loved college. I fell into the deaf and
hard of hearing culture. I learned as much sign  language as I could, I took ASL classes there,
um, the best way to learn, is to turn your  voice off and be with other deaf people. And
you have to watch them sign. And so they used to  pick on me because I’m not a part of either world.
I’m not part of the deaf world. I’m not part of  a hearing world and I’m this middle person. And so
I still feel that way. I don’t belong in either  world, um, because I’m not 100% fluent in sign.
And, I do what I can. It’s one of the reasons  why I don’t use an ASL interpreter, is because
my whole life was hearing basically but living  in a hearing world, as a deaf person. The, um, I
used sign language interpreters throughout  college. And that kind of helped me learn it well,
by having a sign language interpreter in class so  I can at least, if the teacher turns their back
and is writing on the board and I can’t lip read,  I can look at the sign language interpreter.
John Samuel (10:13): Love it. That, you know, you found this,
this, this, this school where you felt like  you belonged. Cause I think that’s just,
you know, when I think about diversity  and inclusion and what we’re trying to do
mean, we want people to feel like they belong. And  you found that at Lenoir Rhyne
and your authentic self came out and  your true self and your happy self came out.
That’s, that’s the Erica that that’s going  to succeed. And that’s so awesome to hear.
Erica Crane (10:39): You know, it definitely
helped me like, accept who I am more when I was  in college, I started to accept. I was like,
okay, I can do this. And I can learn. I can, I’m  still figuring out every day trying to figure out
how to make my job easier. And actually this  whole Corona virus thing has been a blessing
in disguise. Because I never felt like in  person, that I fit because you have big
group and you have people talking like a meeting  room and stuff, verse being able to work here,
you know, work at home and have Microsoft Teams  and captions. And I can lip read the people,
I mean, it’s actually made my  job easier in some ways. So, um,
John Samuel (11:20): It’s really interesting. I mean, so kind of,
you know, kind of take into what you’re doing  today. I mean, you’re talking about the,
COVID being a, a silver lining, but  mean what are the types of, you know,
challenges that you’ve faced in your work and how  did you overcome them as you got into your career?
Erica Crane (11:39): I figured I’d give you a little bit of,
tell you about what I do too. Yeah, that’d be  great. Yeah. I that that was the second part
of your first question. For sure. Yeah.  So I have been with Lowes for 14 years.
Um, I started as an intern, what,  my last year in college and they actually
hired me full time. Um, I spent 13 years  in-store operations communication team,
so I did a lot of mass communication to all of  our stores and field associates and handle a lot of the web posting
for content and resources. Um, did a lot of  surveys to stores and field associates.
and efficient. Um, the majority of what I did just to kind of summarize it here. Um, but then yeah, about a
couple of years ago, I tried to decide, okay.  Been with the same team for almost 14 years.
Erica Crane (12:31): Um, so I wanted to see what’s
next in my life. And so, um, I started doing some  research and seeing what other, um, departments
in Lowes. And I’m trying to figure out where I’m a  good fit. And there were, there was an opening
in the culture diversity inclusion team and, you  know, I never even thought of changing careers.
You know, it’s just, I’ve always had this passion.  Since I’ve accepted myself and want help
others with disabilities because of everything I  went through, you know, I don’t want other people
to feel like they’re excluded and I want them to  be able to find the tools and resources they need
to do their job. So, um, I applied for it and  I got it and it’s actually been great. I mean,
great experience. It’s definitely something  new. I’m learning something new. Um,
I’m not going to be the subject matter expert anytime soon in  the cultural diversity inclusion, but,
um, it’s given me an opportunity  to learn more and help others.
Erica Crane (13:28): So, um, what am I mainly responsible for,
uh, external benchmarking survey’s. So if you  think about disability IN: Disability
Equality Index and Human Rights Campaign,  Corporate Equality Index and the Great Places to
Work, you know, those types of things, um, those,  uh, I manage the process, I work with business
partners and stakeholders to gather answers to the survey  questions and then submit that on behalf of Lowes.
I’m also responsible for the communication  around the awards and accolades as well. Um,
and another part of my role is handling all the ad-hoc  surveys internally with Lowes. So similar to what
I was doing in my previous role, doing surveys  with store and field and I’m basically the main
person doing it for, you know, plantwide surveys  or corporate, uh, supply chain, um, survey’s, um,
and then recently, I have been asked to be the point of  contact for disability on my team. So, I’m super
excited about that. And it’s definitely a space  I can grow in and I’m not part of accommodation
team by any means. So they have their own team,  but if somebody reaches out to our team
and needs more resources or information  or best practices, I can help guide them.
John Samuel (14:52): You’re the person to contact. That’s awesome.
Erica Crane (14:53): Uh, I’ve been building a lot of new content,
so I have several new like infographics about, um,  how Coronavirus is impacting diverse segments or
communities, how, how, um, have some inequality  infographic different, um, like people of color,
disabilities, LGBTQ, I’ve been building a lot  of Infographics and also trying to gather some
information from like Disability: IN and around how,  um, what information we can post for our
associates. Like what is a reasonable accommodation?  Well, what’re some do’s and don’ts for um, best
practices and terminology for disabilities. So  there’s a lot of, um, resources, I’m trying to
build too and, um, I love it. I do. And so it’s  pretty fun and I’m enjoying it, especially when it
tapped into the deaf and hard of hearing. So I’ve  got the deaf, statistics and, infographics even.
John Samuel (15:52): That’s awesome. Yeah. So, um,
Erica Crane (15:55): You asked me about
how I overcame, um, um, some of that.
Erica Crane (15:59): So,
Erica Crane (16:01): So, um, one of the things
like I was saying, I am still trying to  learn; what out there for me and Microsoft
teams when Coronavirus started, that became key,  because, um, before, what I was doing before that
with, um, anytime you had a conference call and  we were in the meeting room, um, at work, uh,
I would have to ask one of my coworkers to join me in the meeting, even if I’m, leading it, or if I’m
not leading it. To have somebody make sure that  they all listen to for so that they can ping me,
um, what was Skype at the time, um, before  Microsoft Team and ping me and make sure that
I understand who, what the person on the phone speaking. Um, I did have a CAPTEL phone. Uh, at my
desk, um, but the talking was so delayed and, you know, and it’s, it’s hard to keep up, and it had
awkward pauses and I actually hated my CAPTEL phone and, but with conference calls, and I definitely
had somebody come in and kind of help me make sure I know what’s going on, on, on the phone.
Erica Crane (17:06): Um, they would type,
they would ping me and just, so that help, um,  note-takers, if they’re in a meeting and have
other coworkers and them. I asked if somebody can take notes so that I don’t have to stop and
can pay your attention and read everybody’s lips.  Um, so there are times when we have like a,
you know, enterprise-wide or a corporate-wide, uh,  event. Um, so for those, I always asked for a sign
language interpreter because usually we’re in an arena or somewhere big, big stage, could be hard
to read lips at a distance, even if you’re near  the front. Um, and they’re walking around the stage
and stuff though. I always request a  sign language interpreter for those.
Erica Crane (17:45): Um, and then the other one, um,
in the past that I’ve had a hard time, getting closed captions on videos to watch. Yeah.
And that’s always been an issue as long as I can remember, for 13, 14 years.
So I, now that I’m on the cultural diversity and inclusion team, I’m trying to make it a
best practice so it’s not an afterthought.  When you do videos and communication plans.
Build that into your plan at Lowes.  So that we have captains for videos,
but um, to overcome the barrier in the past, I  would just request the transcript. Cause usually,
you know, they’re preparing the speeches for the executives, the leaders that are speaking.
So I would ask for the transcript. I kind of read their transcript and follow along with the video.
John Samuel (18:32): So on that front, Erica, I mean,
I think that it’s amazing, you know, just as you and I were preparing for this interview, you know,
typically we use zoom and, but to have the live captioning, we moved over to Microsoft teams.
Um, but you know, I know that we have been very  intentional now and we are posting things on
Instagram or social media on the videos, we want to make sure that there’s captioning.
I mean, what is your experience with seeing the lack of captioning or,
you know, or who’s doing well with the captioning on social media and in particular?
Erica Crane (19:05): Well, um,
well, I do Instagram, I do Facebook. Um, I do have a lot of friends so the majority of the time
they’re captioned and they usually use YouTube.  Um, YouTube does have automatic captioning
and you can also modify the transcript on, on the captioning. So that’s helpful, but yeah,
the time that there’s no captions, I do the best  to lip read. Um, I miss things. It’s my life,
I miss things. Yeah, it happens. It definitely,  I think there’s a big gap for improvement there.
Um, not only on social media, but if you think  about podcasts, I can’t listen to podcast,
I’ve never seen one with captions or transcripts to be honest. Um, so I
don’t even bother you even looking at Podcasts cause I know it’s not going to be accessible for me. So
John Samuel (20:02): I mean, that’s a, that’s a whole market
that people are missing out on because they’re not  making it accessible. So if a podcast did make it
accessible or, you know, add a transcript or have  that, is that something you’d be interested in?
Erica Crane (20:17):
Um, yeah I did reach out to Disability: IN on it, uh,  just this week actually. Um, there were the,
uh, um, kind of a request that came to our team about possibly adding a CD&I podcast
playlist on our cultural diversity inclusion site. Um for our Lowes associates and um, I was like,
well, I’m not going to be able to hear them so how are we going to do that. Um, yeah. So I maintain
and manage our cultural diversity inclusion  SharePoint site. I built it, re-designed it,
I’m also in charge of all the BRG sites. So  I manage and keep the content fresh on the site.
And so I was like, Hmm, how am I going to do that?  So I’ll have to um if we choose to use podcasts in the future,
I’ll have one of my coworkers listen to them. So she’s, she’s new to our team, I have her listen
to them and send them to me. The ones that we want to post. And we also might look into transcribing
them for our deaf and hard of hearing users. Using what’s called and they do transcription and
captions. So we might use that, that way it will be accessible, but yeah, podcasts is a big one.
John Samuel (21:30): Yeah. That’s one of
the things I’d like to do is get a list of resources from you that we can share with
folks regarding making sure that captioning is accessible and attainable for all companies.
And that kind of leads me to the final question. You know, I’m a, I’m a super fan of
Janice Little and everything she’s done at Lowe’s and what your whole team does. And, um, you know,
I think there’s a lot of best practices that y’all could share. And I know that you’re the
point person now. So what are some things that you think employers can think about,
about making sure that, that their, their workforce is, is more inclusive of all people?
Erica Crane (22:08): Yeah, so I think that, um, training is
going to be key and unconscious bias. Um, if you think about people have all kinds of experiences
and, um, they grow up from different cultures and they’re, you, you might not be around people that
have disabilities kind of like, me, I did not know anybody that was deaf or hard of hearing
growing up, so I don’t have that experience or exposure. So if you’ve never been exposed to it,
how can, you know what to act or how, I mean  your mind is molded to what you’ve experienced.
So training and unconscious bias would be, um, uh, the key to making sure that
associates are understanding and just having their training and actually give real-life scenarios.
Um, but not just that, um, if let’s say you have a person that started your job and,
um, they have a disability. Just help and  make sure that you’re understanding what
their abilities and limitations are. So for me, I  can do everything you can do, just, I can’t hear.
Erica Crane (23:15): So if you think about, think
about it like that, I mean, people think that if  you have a disability, you can’t do something. Um,
so that goes back to unconscious bias and you  know, misconceptions and myths and you just
have to like tap into those and unpack those and  just get to the root cause. But if you take
my advice, it would be, make sure you treat people  as equal, you know, no matter what. And if you,
if you’re curious and just don’t know about, that  person’s disabilities and they obviously told you
they would have a disability. Be curious, ask  questions. If you’re kind and you’re, you’re
asking, you know, careful questions, uh, most  people are an open book and they want to share.
I am now at a point that I’ve accepted my  disability. I want to share with others.
One of the reasons why I’m doing this, I’m hoping  it’s helpful and it inspires others, and, but you
don’t have to be alone. You know, find a support  group find somebody that you can talk to. Um,
John Samuel (24:24): No, I love it. Erica.
And I think that, you know, your  vulnerability, your authenticity,
I think these are the things that are going  to, you know, inspire individuals who, who are,
uh, ashamed of talking about their disability.  I was one of those people for many years,
so I can totally empathize with you. And I, and  I totally agree with you about having those open
discussions and in dialogue, cause that’s how  we’re going to, we’re going to do, you know,
change, change the way and changes unconscious  biases. And um, so I love it. I love everything.
You’ve, you’ve just kind of shared those best  practices. Cause that’s something that every
single company can actually, can start to  implement themselves. So how can people get in touch with you?,
Erica Crane (25:09): People that want to get in touch,  I’m on LinkedIN.
That might be the best  place to start. Um, my name is Erica Crane.
Uh, they can reach out to me and then I have  email with Lowes and a personal email. So,
um, if, if you choose to email  me and it’s work related or just
want to resources you can reach  out to
John Samuel (25:34): Awesome. Thank you so much,
Erica. I really, you know, really appreciate  you sharing your story and just being so
vulnerable with us cause, and uh, you  know, I love it and I’m so glad to
have you as an ally and um, and uh, I can’t  wait to see what you do in your, you know,
with the cultural and diversity team. And uh,  and we’re going to go with that. So thanks again.