by Susan Josephs
By day, Dana Marlowe works tirelessly to ensure that people with disabilities can access websites and effectively use their smartphones. By night, she’s often awake until two in the morning coordinating a global effort to provide bras and sanitary supplies to homeless women. Always, “I try to impact the positive well being of others,” she says.
A lifelong “champion of the underdog” with a gift for advocacy and social entrepreneurship, Marlowe runs both a multi-million dollar IT consulting firm and rapidly expanding nonprofit from her home in Silver Spring, Md. As the founder of “Accessibility Partners,” she assists businesses and organizations, including the Library of Congress, Amazon and the Kennedy Center, with making their products and services accessible to those with disabilities. And since launching “Support the Girls” last July, she has transformed an idea to donate her unused bras into an international initiative. So far, Marlowe’s organization has collected over 20,000 bras and 53,000 tampons and menstrual pads for over 50 homeless shelters nationwide while “Support the Girls” affiliates have sprung up in other countries including Australia and Costa Rica.
“It’s been life-changing,” says the 39-year-old activist of receiving feedback from homeless women who “don’t have to worry about getting their period on the street or who can stand up straight because they have a bra that fits. I personally have never been homeless but it was instilled in me that if you see a problem, you try and fix it.”
Often starting her day at five in the morning to get her sons Micah, 8, and Riley, 4, ready for school, Marlowe sometimes resorts to “doing meetings on the driveway” in her car as she juggles her responsibilities as a working mom. “But my kids know that I’m passionate about what I do, which is trying to make the world a more accessible place for everyone,” she observes.
Raised in New York’s Rockland County, Marlowe spent much of her childhood in “the hospital” with her father, who suffered from brain cancer and died when she was 12. “I got comfortable being around the sick and dying and seeing everyone as equals,” she recalls.
Instilled with Jewish values about “being a mensch” from her parents, Marlowe also found a formative role model in her aunt, a speech pathologist who taught her sign language. Inspired to earn an associate’s degree in Sign Language Interpretation and Translation from Rochester Institute of Technology, she worked as a sign language interpreter while earning an additional communications degree from RIT. “I loved signing but I wanted to express my own ideas,” she says of continuing her education, which includes a master’s degree in interpersonal and organizational communication at the University of Texas’s Austin campus.
"I personally have never been homeless but it was instilled in me that if you see a problem, you try and fix it."
After graduate school, Marlowe worked for an environmental nonprofit before relocating to Silver Spring, where she found her calling in information technology accessibility. After serving in senior positions for two IT accessibility firms, she crafted a business plan for her own company while on maternity leave during the 2009 recession. “I took a risk but I don’t quit easily if something is the right course of action,” she says of her success.
Married to Preston Blay, Marlowe recently chaired a task force on engaging interfaith families through her local Jewish Federation and serves in leadership roles for several disability rights organizations. “I’m about human rights,” she says of all her endeavors. “And when there’s an opportunity to make a difference I will always step up.”