Microsoft Shuffles Staffers in Renewed Accessibility Push

The software giant names a new chief accessibility officer as part of an initiative to make Microsoft's products more accessible to users of varying abilities.

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Jenny Lay-Flurrie, chair of the Disability Employee Resource Group at Microsoft, has been named the company's new chief accessibility officer as the Redmond, Wash., corporation turns its attention to making technology more accessible to people with disabilities.

The appointment bolsters Microsoft's recent efforts to drive accessibility throughout its product portfolio, according to Brad Smith, Microsoft's president and chief legal officer.

Last month, the company announced its support for the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (G3ict) charter. G3ict calls for governments to demand only accessible technology from their suppliers.

"We are continuing our work to strengthen our engineering capabilities and making new investments to prioritize and build out accessibility features in our products and services. We are also putting key people in new leadership positions to help us advance our goals related to accessibility," wrote Smith in a company blog post.

In her new role, Jenny Lay-Flurrie will lead a cross-company advisory team focused on accessibility, inclusion and transparency. She replaces Rob Sinclair, who is now heading the company's accessibility efforts at Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group.

"His experience and expertise will be incredibly valuable as he plays this key leadership role on our technical and engineering work to advance our accessibility goals," said Smith. "In addition to Rob at Windows, we are tapping engineering leads within our Applications and Services and our Cloud and Enterprise Groups to lead the accessibility work in their respective business groups."

Jenny Lay-Flurrie reports to Susan Hauser, corporate vice president for Microsoft's new Business and Corporate Responsibility Group. Hauser was the former head of "one of the most important customer segments at Microsoft," the Enterprise and Partner Group, said Smith. "This experience will be valuable in making sure feedback from our customers is heard, translated across our product groups and incorporated into our product design today and as we look to future technologies that will deliver on our company mission."

Microsoft isn't the only technology heavyweight committed to promoting accessibility.

In 2014, IBM appointed Frances West as the company's first chief accessibility officer. She was formerly head of the Human Ability & Accessibility Center at IBM Research and served on the board of the American Association of People with Disabilities.

"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," said West in a statement announcing the new post.

Last year, IBM created the Mobile Accessibility Checker tool to help make iOS and Android apps more accessible to the hearing- and vision-impaired. "With mobile, the development cycle is much shorter compared to software development that designers and developers ignore, or in most cases, are unaware of basic accessibility conformance requirements—such as color contrast or ensuring they work with screen readers. Mobile Accessibility Checker ensures that accessibility is done right from the start," West told eWEEK's Nathan Eddy at the time.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...