In July of 2014, International Business Machines Corp. appointed Frances West its Chief Accessibility Officer. Lauren Weber of the Wall Street Journal interviewed Ms. West about her role as CAO in October. A Chief Accessibility Officer is a newer role, but Ms. West told Ms. Webber that “as demographic and regulatory developments bring disability issues squarely into the workplace—and the marketplace—companies will find themselves paying closer attention.”
In the interview, Ms. West discussed why the role was created and how it affects IBM’s customers with disabilities, as well as its employees. She explained that “one reason [her position was created] is demographics. We see the emergence of the aging population on one end, and on the other end the millennials. They’re very socially conscious, so the topic of mainstreaming people with different abilities is very natural for them.” Other reasons include new US regulations for federal contractor as well as new global legislation.
One aspect Ms. West addressed with Ms. Weber was how difficult it can be on individual managers to accommodate employees with disabilities. “That’s why,” according to Ms. West, “large companies need to centralize decision support. If you’re a manager in IBM and you want to hire a person with a disability, and there’s a cost associated with it—for example, buying a screen reader—that cost will come out of a centralized budget. We also created a global app called Accessible Workplace Connection. Anyone can log on, whether they’re a new hire or a manager trying to procure an accommodation for an employee. It walks you through the accommodations that are available and how to put them in place.”
When Ms. West was asked how a CAO gets the attention of top leaders, she replied “We want to challenge the notion that this is a low-level compliance play. It isn’t an HR or niche initiative. Our experience is, if you think about it differently, you can view this as a reason for innovation and then translate that into business differentiation. And that’s how we get to the C-suites and people who influence resources and budgets.”
To read the entire interview, log onto the Wall Street Journal. http://www.wsj.com/articles/new-c-suite-mandate-accessibility-1413751560?KEYWORDS=disability