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What Being A Chief Accessibility Officer Means

By Rosemary Musachio, CPACC posted 06-15-2016 19:24


What Being A Chief Accessibility Officer Means

By Rosemary Musachio, Ruh Global Communications, Chief Accessibility Officer

Recently, Ruh Global Communications appointed me its Chief Accessibility Officer (CAO).  In my role, I will manage internal and external accessibility projects.  I will ensure that accessibility best practices will be followed within the company and help clients meet their accessibility needs, including website and product accessibility.  I will consult on accessibility and inclusion issues that clients face from the employee to the customer level. 

Every business needs to include accessibility in its fabric to become stronger.  Otherwise, it will rip and create big gaps.  Making every aspect of a company accessible and inclusive increases productivity, embraces diversity with common goals, and promotes more of a positive image to the public.  According to Frances West, CAO of IBM, “"Today, it affects everyone’s use of a product or service and helps deliver information in the most consumable way possible.  Organizations that have embraced and embedded accessibility throughout the enterprise are better connecting with customers, expanding their market reach and creating an inclusive workplace environment where everyone has the best chance of success." 

Since I have cerebral palsy, I bring a personal perspective to my role as CAO.  I know what a company needs to do for employees with disabilities to feel accepted and purposeful, and what a business must do to serve customers with disabilities with consideration and respect.  Other persons with disabilities have held CAO or similar positions.  For example, Microsoft recently hired Jenny Lay-Flurrie as its new Accessibility Director.  Becoming deaf from an ear infection during childhood, Jenny will integrate her personal experiences into her new position.  As it’s inferred in the article Talk to the Hand, Lay-Flurrie’s motto “You can do anything” is helping Microsoft execute programs to assist persons with disabilities with technologies.  For instance, she helped plan Ability Summit, a showcase of products and services to empower them for the future. 

Another accessibility executive who has a disability is Jonathan Avila.  His vision impairment has brought a personal perspective to his job also.  Who else better than a person who cannot see can develop solutions and innovations for users with vision, as well as other, impairments?  Avila also serves on WCAG working group and mobility accessibility task force. 

You can be skilled at accessibility testing and know all about best practices and guidelines.  But the first-hand experience of facing accessibility barriers gives a CAO an extra edge.  It brings empathy to the role, making the CAO passionate about helping businesses bulldoze those barriers that other persons with disabilities have encountered. 

If a company even creates a COA or a Director of Accessibility position, it is taking a smart business move.  With 15% of the world’s population having a disability and $1 trillion in aggregated spending by consumers with disabilities, appointing a skilled COA will allow a business to be more profitable and reputable.  If the skilled COA has a disability, it makes the company more credible, sending a strong message to the public that it is serious about accessibility.



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