IBM Appoints Chief Accessibility Officer

IBM named Frances West as the company’s first Chief Accessibility Officer to guide Big Blue's accessibility policies and practices.

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IBM has created a new position, Chief Accessibility Officer (CAO), aimed at redefining accessibility for users and ensuring that all users can have access to technology.

Big Blue appointed Frances West as the company's first Chief Accessibility Officer. In this new role, West will guide IBM accessibility policies and practices. Additionally, she will lead IBM's collaboration with business, government and academia to advance accessibility standards and policy.

West started at IBM Research as the leader of the Human Ability & Accessibility Center. She has served on the board of directors of the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Assistive Technology Industry Association and the U.S. Business Leadership Network, among others. She currently sits on the board of the World Institute on Disability, is a trustee at the National Braille Press and is an adviser to the National Business & Disability Council.

"The success of enterprises and institutions, and their impact on the world, will increasingly be determined by how easily they engage with individuals," said Ginni Rometty, IBM chairman, president and CEO, in a statement. "We see a great opportunity to design for accessibility fundamentally from the start and to enhance the abilities of individuals through technology—and we intend to lead."

In addition to the more than 1 billion people with disabilities worldwide, there are aging populations and people with language, learning and literacy challenges. As mobile devices become the primary means of engaging consumers, workers and citizens, they can become a transformational platform to broaden accessibility.

"IBM has long embraced accessibility to create an environment where all individuals can do their job and reach their full potential," West said in a statement. "We believe that technology can bridge individual differences, enable a diverse pool of talent in the workplace and improve lives. We are at a crossroads where we can begin to personalize every experience and integrate technology in ways that will be very powerful."

Today, West is speaking on Capitol Hill about the government passing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which is a United Nations Treaty that identifies the rights of persons with disabilities and also obligations to promote, protect and ensure those rights. The CRPD is grounded in a broad human rights framework and was modeled on the U.S. American with Disabilities Act.

West will work with IBM teams around the world that are spearheading efforts to deliver accessible and assistive technologies to the market. IBM has long been involved in enhancing accessibility technology and various units within the company to continue to focus on it at different levels. For instance, IBM Interactive works with clients to embed technologies like text-to-speech, voice recognition, real-time translation and location-based preferences to create more personalized experiences and to remove both persistent and situational barriers for their customers.

Meanwhile, IBM's Bluemix cloud platform as a service will provide an ecosystem of accessibility services, from development tools for design and testing to enterprise-wide compliance services. In addition, IBM will design for accessibility in the apps and solutions it creates to unlock the potential of enterprise mobility. And IBM Watson will extend the abilities of individuals by tapping knowledge from vast stores of data, using natural language in areas as diverse as financial services and personalized medicine, IBM officials said.

"Frances is a respected leader and has been instrumental in supporting inclusive technology policies and accessibility standards," Axel Leblois, president and executive director of G3ict, the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies—a United Nations global initiative. "Removing barriers and giving individuals the ability to design their own experience is the right way to create an inclusive environment."

For more than 100 years, IBM has advanced technology access for people of all abilities. Some of its earliest innovations include the first Braille printer, a talking typewriter and the first commercially viable screen reader.