Back in high school, Emeline Lakrout took a marketing class on a whim and quickly found herself competing in academic business contests. She soon enrolled in the McCombs School of Business, where she explored the many exciting avenues within the marketing arena.
While on campus, she also discovered her passion for disability advocacy and awareness. Lakrout was honored along with many other registered students with disabilities at Services for Students with Disabilities’ (SSD’s) very first spring graduation ceremony, which was held virtually on May 20.
We caught up with Lakrout, who is blind, to learn more about her advocacy work with the student-run disABILITY Advocacy Student Coalition (DASC) and how she plans to expand accessibility in consumer markets.
Getting down to business…While in business school, Lakrout learned about an exciting and fulfilling career path that would allow her to make a difference in people’s lives. “In marketing, we have the ‘Four Ps’: product, place, price and promotion. With these four variables, you’re playing with all these levers to connect people with the products they need, and you’re learning how to develop new products. I aspire to work at companies that are all about creating value and benefitting people’s lives.”
From UT to NYC…In 2018, Lakrout was accepted into the competitive LIME Connect Fellowship, a professional development program offered to undergraduates with disabilities that includes an all-expense paid trip the annual Leadership and Development Symposium in New York City. The fellowship helped Lakrout secure an internship of a lifetime with Unilever, a multinational consumer goods company. “These are the best marketers in America. The main thing that struck me was the culture. I took on two accessibility projects and they took my ideas very seriously and brought them into fruition.”
The future is bright…Lakrout was soon accepted in the Unilever Future Leaders Program, a three-year rotation that gives promising business leaders challenging roles within the company. “I’m at a company where you can do so much good at the top of your field. It’s a business that works with a lot of integrity. Each brand has a purpose and they are very focused on sustainability and platinum eco-ratings.”
Dining in the dark…After serving as president of DASC, Lakrout feels she is ready to take on this next big challenge in her career. During her time with the student-run disability awareness and education organization, she organized a number of campus events, including Disability Fest and the annual Dinner in the Dark, a pitch-dark dining event that gives students a better understanding of what it’s like to live with a visual impairment. “I was very happy to so many people engaged and enjoying Dining in the Dark. When you’re in a room with people who aren’t uncomfortable talking about disability, it’s pretty incredible.”
Building a lasting legacy…As she passes the baton to her successor, Lakrout hopes to see the development of a new resource center for students with disabilities. She has been in talks with several campus partners to develop the space for training programs, meetings and support groups addressing mental health issues. “There’s more than 4,000 students with disabilities here on campus, so a center would be an inclusive, welcoming space where they can come together and feel comfortable.”
Clearing the air…Growing up with a degenerative eye condition, Lakrout is accustomed to awkward interactions with people crossing her path. She’s used to seeing pedestrians leaping out of her way while she’s using a cane. Other times, she’s attracting unwanted attention from strangers wanting to dote over her guide dog, Vega. That’s why the work of DASC and other disability groups must continue bringing people together to make these interactions more comfortable for everyone. “When you walk into an elevator or approach someone with a cane, you can feel that cloud of awkward energy. I want to help people, the abled and disabled, talk about disability and overcome their fears and discomfort.”
Changing the subway system…And though it will be bittersweet leaving DASC, Lakrout is proud of her accomplishments—and she plans to continue her good work long after graduation. “I would love to do disability advocacy on the side. The New York subways are incredibly inaccessible, so I want to see that change. I learned how to multitask at UT, so I know it’s possible!”
Advice for future Longhorns with disabilities… “First thing is to find a group. It doesn’t have to be DASC, but find a local or national group to join because it will boost your confidence and teach you how to leverage your disability. Also, be a doer—and do something that is meaningful. Try to collect mentors because you don’t know what you don’t know. As long as you stay humble and keep learning, you can’t go wrong.”