Chief accessibility officer

The Chief Accessibility Officer (CAO) is a C-suite executive position within an organization. The role exists in organizations to improve accessibility for people with physical or mental disabilities.[1]

Key responsibilities of the CAO include ensuring the organization provides accessible products, services and employment for people with disabilities. An organization with a CAO may choose to extend accessibility efforts beyond compliance and assert accessibility as a core business value. Organizations that have adopted a CAO include IBM (2014) and Microsoft (2014).

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".[2] The name was first introduced as a position in 2014.


In 2014, Microsoft's Robert Sinclair was the first to use the title.[3] In July 2014, IBM appointed Frances West to serve as its first CAO.[4][5][6] Other companies have implemented CAO positions.[7]

In June 2019, the Accessible Canada Act established the role of Chief Accessibility Officer within the Government of Canada to provide advice to the Minister of Accessibility and to monitor systemic and emerging accessibility issues.[8][9]


A CAO's responsibilities may include:

  • setting an accessibility policy and strategic goals
  • managing legal responsibilities associated with risk mitigation
  • championing inclusion within other departments, especially human resources and procurement
  • working with suppliers and clients to improve practices
  • connecting business units to eliminate silos and compartmental thinking
  • engaging active stakeholder management with governments and other interest groups

The role can entail a cultural change for organizations, embedding the inclusion of customers with a disability in business models.[10] Accessibility can be seen as a sustainability, branding, or ethical business approach, ensuring the organization serves all customers and employees, including people with disabilities or illiteracy. Working with a broader range of requirements can lead to playing a role in business innovation and transformation.[11] The CAO can be responsible for managing relationships with internal and external stakeholders with a disability.

Requirements of the role include familiarity with accessibility best practice for physical and digital environments.

A familiarity with the barriers that people with disabilities face can be helpful. Other skills might include change management, problem solving, and ability to persuade business entities and departments to embrace accessibility in their culture.[12]

Alternative titles

  • Chief Information Accessibility Officer
  • Head of Accessibility and Digital Inclusion[13]
  • Global Head of Accessibility [14][15]


  1. "What Being A Chief Accessibility Officer Means". Ruh Global Impact. 2016-06-24. Retrieved 2019-10-14.
  2. Lachman, Benjamin (February 22, 2016). "What Is a Chief Accessibility Officer?". JJ's List.
  3. Riaz, Saleha (March 30, 2015). "Microsoft chief accessibility officer talks about adaptable tech". Mobile World Live. 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
  4. Taft, Darryl K. (July 22, 2014). "IBM Appoints Chief Accessibility Officer". eWEEK.
  5. Miller, Mark (July 22, 2014). "Frances West Announced as IBM Chief Accessibility Officer". Interactive Accessibility.
  6. "New C-Suite Mandate: Accessibility". Wall Street Journal. October 19, 2014. Here’s a C-suite role you may never have heard of: chief accessibility officer.
  7. Technology, Partnership on Employment & Accessible (February 10, 2015). "Building a Profession: A Conversation with Rob Sinclair and Chris Peck from the International Association of Accessibility Professionals". Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT). 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.
  8. "Canada's first federal accessibility legislation receives Royal Assent". Government of Canada (Press release). June 21, 2019.
  9. McQuigge, Michelle (June 21, 2018). "Canada's first national accessibility law tabled in Ottawa". CBC News.
  10. "The Accessibility Advantage: Why Businesses Should Care About Inclusive Design" (PDF).
  11. "Accessibility as a Business Imperative: An Interview with IBM's Frances West".
  12. Arch, Royston. "New Role for the C-Suite: Chief Accessibility Officer". DiversityPlus.
  13. "About Neil Milliken".
  14. "Access for all".
  15. "Siteimprove Promotes from Within, Names Global Head of Accessibility Relations".

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