Chief accessibility officer
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The Chief Accessibility Officer (CAO) is a C-suite executive position in an organization where the objective is to make their organization more accessible to people with disabilities or physical and mental issues.
The CAO position provides an extensive role and responsibilities ensuring accessibility in business. Some key responsibilities of the CAO are ensuring accessible products, services, and employment for people with disabilities. An organization adding this C-Suite executive position chose to extend accessibility efforts beyond compliance, instead asserting accessibility as a core business value. Role model organizations in adopting the CAO are IBM (2014) and Microsoft (2014), which showed increased efforts accessibility as part of their business strategy.
According to JJ Hanley of JJ's List, the CAO is "somebody who is simultaneously intimately familiar with the company’s product or service offerings and how consumers experience those offerings". The moniker was first introduced as a position in 2014, and has been adopted by many major companies.
In 2014, Microsoft's Robert Sinclair was the first to use the title. In July 2014, IBM appointed Frances West to serve as their first ever CAO. Other companies have implemented CAO positions.
In June 2019, the Accessible Canada Act established in the Government of Canada a Chief Accessibility Officer who will provide advice to the Minister of Accessibility and monitor systemic and emerging accessibility issues.
A CAO's responsibilities include:
- setting accessibility policy and strategic goals
- managing legal responsibilities associated and risk mitigation
- championing inclusion within other departments, especially human resources and procurement
- working with suppliers and clients to improve practices
- connect business units to eliminate silo's and compartmental thinking
- engage active stakeholder management with governments and other interest groups
The CAO role entails a cultural change for organizations, embedding the inclusion of customers with a disability in business models. Accessibility can be seen as a sustainability, branding, or ethical business approach making sure the organization serves all customers and employees, including people with disabilities or illiteracy. Working with a broader range of requirements often leads to playing a role in business innovation and transformation. This role is often responsible for managing the relationships with internal and external stakeholders with a disability. The CAO often needs to be familiar with accessibility best practices for both the physical and digital environments.[neutrality is disputed]
Familiarity with the barriers people with disabilities face, offers a great advantage in the CAO role. Next to skills as change management, problem solving and evangelistic skills supporting business entities and departments embracing accessibility in their culture.[neutrality is disputed] The role tends to benefit from someone who is straight forward, willing to challenge existing business values, and approachable for all, in support of bottom-up ideas in support of customers and supporting employees with a disabilities facing barriers in their day to day work.[neutrality is disputed]
- Chief Information Accessibility Officer
- Head of Accessibility & Digital Inclusion
- Global Head of Accessibility 
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Microsoft’s chief accessibility officer, Robert Sinclair, has told Mobile World Live why the company became the first in the industry to establish such a role and how the issue of accessibility has come to encompass more than just people with severe disabilities
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Here’s a C-suite role you may never have heard of: chief accessibility officer.
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Comcast, AT&T, Pearson and others have recently established Chief Accessibility Officer roles and have been serious in recruiting dozens of people with accessibility expertise to build or grow their programs.
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