IBM’s first Chief Accessibility Officer, internationally recognized thought leader and author of “Authentic Inclusion Drives Disruptive Innovation”, France West is the February 2022 ‘Champion of Accessibility’.
Hi, I'm Dave Gardy from WEB Able TV from our studios here near Washington D.C for another in the series of "CHAMPIONS OF ACCESSABILITY" and joining us now via zoom is Frances West who's founder of Frances West Co and also the former chief accessibility officer for IBM.
She's chair of the strategy and development committee for G3ict and she will be interviewed by Mike Paciello and I'm going to turn it over to Mike now. Mike,
Thanks a lot Dave. Frances, great to have you with us uh it's a long time coming to be honest with you.
Yeah, it's been a little while and both of us have been on the busy journeys.
Yeah, no doubt no doubt about that but we've seen each other it was good to see you uh down in Washington at m enabling and and uh i think from what i'm seeing things are moving forward I wonder if I could just kind of give you a little bit of introduction give our audience a little bit of an introduction to you who you are um in in what you've been up to so uh could you give us a little bit more on your personal background your, your background especially as it relates to accessibility in people with disabilities.
Sure, um so I'm Frances West and um founder of Frances West Co like they've mentioned and this is really my second career I guess you can say my first career is actually with IBM and I spent over 35 years at IBM um working in mainstream I guess you can call it mainstream sales and marketing roles and my last job in IBM was as IBM's the chief accessibility officer out of IBM research we worked on emerging and new technology to make sure it doesn't create barrier for aging and people with disabilities and that was a job uh life-changing job in the sense that um I always pride myself as a technologist and a business woman first but in that job it really brought together the meaning of technology to humanity and also spoke to my personal background as an immigrant coming to the United States at a tender age of 19 and uh and really was afforded this incredible
opportunity both by this country and also by a company like idea to thrive and to work so when I retired from IBM in 2016 I felt like that this is actually part of my responsibility to really help you know the business leaders especially senior leaders at the top with the receipt suites or board of directors to understand the topic we're talking about here um disability and especially uh digital accessibility it's really a it is a business imperative it's more than HR so um so I've been learning how to be our entrepreneur like uh Mike
and uh been uh added for now I guess five years. So, um so really really uh thrilled to have the
opportunity today to chat with Mike.
Yeah, you know so I'm glad that you brought that so it's been since 2015 did you say or 2016, 2016. Yeah, so it's been it's been a full five years uh you know not notwithstanding um you still have had you know two or three years strong years here to develop your own business but give us a little insight into what you're what what you're bringing to the table now as Frances West Co.
Yeah, so um what I am focusing on now is really helping to for the C-suite like I said the top of the business to understand the topic and then um as you know in the technology business everybody's talking about digital transformation but very C-Suiters or a board director to combat digital accessibility or digital inclusion as part of the digital transformation strategy so that's one thing I try to you know really get them to understand
and secondly is really to continue what I feel like it's actually uh thought leadership um kind of a sharing uh with the with the in and also with our even our own industry right how to think about this topic um in addition to kind of advocacy and compliance perspective how to really think about it and act upon it and what I call operationalize digital inclusion in a institutional or organization setting so I do a lot of actually coaching now and also a strategy alignment workshops with my clients and to bring in you know things like their strategy and design thinking and also operational objectives like policies and governance uh together so
that they actually have a roadmap number one both for technology and also for their digital inclusion organization but last but not least that's a way of uh you know really work it so that it becomes a part of the business um operation which to me is the most sustaining way of making uh digital inclusion real and of course that's based on my my my kind of experience working like ibm you know with what 300 plus thousand
people at that time in 172 countries how do you operationalize it so the entire organization can execute.
Thanks, Frances I'm going to come back to some business thoughts uh and leadership thoughts on in in a couple of minutes um but you know you mentioned uh early on and you're discussing your involvement with organizations like G3ICT, CRPD, M-Enabling, IAAP yes as well isn't it Actually, I'm the one that uh convinced G3ICT to
really take it under its phone I still remember that it was uh it was actually 2016 at the enabling summit that I proposed to uh to excel I was pretty sure that you were there so that brings us uh to mind something that came out of the recent uh conference in in uh in mid-October at M-Enabling uh Dan Goldstein as you know led a conversation um related to accessibility maturity models and I want to get your insight into you know the notion of an AMM and how that works for example within an organization I think a maturity model is step one right I mean having a label having a tool like that and give people a sense that this is something we need to do but I think we have to be very mindful that um that that doesn't become an end in the self right because accessibility maturity is is really just kind of a point in time assessment but how do you go deep on how do you also have a way within the organization to anticipate the constant change and the pivoting organization
have to do so that you your uh maturity model does not become a static process but as very agile and actually is reflective of the uh of the kind of the the natural uh dynamic you know nature of business I think that is the key uh so I think as an industry we are just at the very beginning of this this um this understanding and all of us could do more in in really helping the accessibility specialist or champion to understand there is some depth that needs to be considered but then also help management to understand that don't just think that you have a maturity model and check the box you know and do an assessment once and and that's that's done and dealt with
Yeah, that's a great point for instance i think that was one of the fears that was registered so to speak by some in the audience is that an AMM is meant to be uh embraced in front of one fundamentally should lay the
groundwork for a culture with an organization that is inclusive in nature as opposed to you know a weight cape checklist for example you know oh yeah we did this we did this we did this or some IEEE or HR uh standard along those lines
so yeah good point um and I love the fact you came back to agile I think I've got a couple of questions that I've been kind of thinking about literally on the plane as I was coming back home last night
that I thought would be great to talk to you about so this this makes a nice segue into it but first let's talk about your new book authentic inclusion drives disruptive innovation give us some insight into that the theme and some of the key points.
Well, it's it was actually it's not new anymore uh thanks to Kobe you know we feel like I still feel like it's new baby but it's it's it's been a a year or two now um it's a book that was conceived uh once like I said once I retired from IBM 2016 if you recall that was at the height of some of these um you know inclusion awareness especially in the tech industry remember the famous google walkout on gender you know inclusion and all that and I just felt like you know there has to be a broader perspective on inclusion number one and number two also I noticed that overnight there is like an industry about inclusion consulting right everybody is trying to throw money at it to fix the problem and uh and and in many cases I jokingly say it's like wedding industry like when I got married we just basically you know registered with my husband that 40-some years ago there was no like a cake consultant there's no you know invitation a consultant so now we spend a lot of money but what do we get out of it right I mean so so I felt like it's very important that we actually focus on the word authentic authentic or authenticity is that the measurement of a company is not so much how much money you can throw at or even hiring a chief diversity officer and so on but are you institutionalized are you operationalizing and through your organization I mean to me that is the foundational and number two is that I really want to take the inclusion from the technology perspective as you know I spent my entire life
in in technology business I'm not a I'm not a developer technology person you know so I thank god I have my team in Austin, Texas you know that does all the hard work for Richard Schwartz figure as you know my my best buddy IBM will take care of the real technical stuff but from technology strategy standpoint that has been my thing and I feel like it's almost part of my responsibility to really get the senior executives now outside of IBM because that's what I have to do inside IBM constantly educating and helping them to understand how transformative this is a business strategy so I'm bringing that you know outbound so to speak uh to to
my clients now um you know around the world and I'm very happy that a book actually it was a self-published book but it was picked up by both CES consumer electronic show and south by southwest um 2019 as a book of the year.
Yeah, do you do you see that from the technological standpoint where um you know emerging technologies
around accessibility can become disruptors.
oh absolutely I mean this is I think this is one of the that's another reason if you look at the the work that
uh Francis West Co did today right it's kind of two pile one pile is more of a strategy advice rule with uh with existing you can call it enterprise customers I guess you know large entities whether it's United Nations and and or um you know company like uh you know in financial service sector but the other side is I spent
actually a lot of my time with startups because to me uh people who focus on digital inclusion accessibility will be the most uh relevant and sustained disruptors um going into the future. I mean there's just no question about it I think COVID really pointed out how important how essential technology is as underpinning
so for the company that really understand that as they invent new technology or or implement technology within their enterprise they got to think about inclusion digital inclusion and if they do that they're going to be the they're going to be the market leader you know for the long hope
Yeah, yeah, it's very interesting so I want to ask you a couple questions along these lines based on I've been reading um a book "Rethinking Competitive Advantage" by Ram Charan. I'm not sure if you know Ram he was with uh uh well he's been with just about everybody since on a lot of boards but I remember most when he was at
GE uh and was a chief advisor to uh Jack Welch and he wrote this new book that I just started reading over the weekend but I want I want you to just i'm just going to list a couple of things as he's talking about the digital ecosystem in the digital economy and tell me how this resonates with you because boy I'll tell you
I was reading this up and uh just rethinking my approaches on a number of different things so he says new rules for competition number one a personalized consumer experience is key to exponential growth number three a company does not compete its ecosystem does number five there's there's six of them by the way people culture and work design form a work design form a social engine that drives innovation and execution personalized for each customer in the last one leaders continuously learn imagine and break through obstacles to create the change that other companies must contend with so those are I give you four of the six what do you think about those.
Well so if you had just read my book I talked about human first yeah right I mean the foundational theme of authentic inclusion is that even though I'm a technologist I've come to realize and really push my client and also anybody that's willing to listen that the human first which is is is the foundational competitive advantage of the future right and we've heard the term personalization forever now I mean to me accessibility is the extreme form of personalization right making sure the technology can enable each person's difference you know if I use font size 16 not because I'm disabled it's just because I prefer that way so that personal preference um is is absolutely the key to the survival I thought without survival being destructive of the future so I agree you know and the second point about the ecosystem that's actually very interesting
I actually I mean you you mentioned you saw that I connected myself with the G3ict and so on Early on when I took the job at IBM um and I came for actually Lotus right the job prior to being the head of the accessibility I was the channel executive for lotus and uh worldwide a channel and what I realized even back then is apply alliances and partnership is the key to the success so I think which is equivalent to the today's term of ecosystem uh there's nobody can survive on their own as a company with a good solution or whatever you've got to think about the ecosystem around you so yeah I totally agree with some of the observations
well what's amazing to me about this book and again I'm about halfway through it right now is his His theme here is driven at the the entire digital economy he doesn't bring anything about people with disabilities in this at all but he says all of the right things frankly for what investors want to hear in terms of growth markets in a digital individual economy again I want to just read a small quote out of this this publication he's talking about the big companies the big digital companies today right Amazon, Facebook Netflix, Twitter etc... and so forth right and he says here's what drives those companies and when you really think about that this is absolutely true the consumer experience drives everything they do not the competition or their core competence so the question is how can we create a better consumer experience competition matters only as it pertains to to the uh consumer experience I mean this is what you were just saying and of course you know
this is what I've been talking about for years is it is all about the users it is about inclusion but it's it's you know it's end-to-end conclusion it's about embracing the ecosystem that we live in and that you and I work in and all of our our friends and colleagues actually is this massive um audience if you will or or um that yeah ecosystem of people who are either themselves individuals with disabilities have family members with disabilities or are professionals who work in the industry that's the ecosystem that we're looking at. Suddenly when you make that a one-to-one and I love his his little algorithm here he says M as in market equals one right. So, when you think about directing your efforts in your business to a one-off not one-off but one-to-one experience um in terms of consumer experience and refining that and making everything about them it changes the dynamics of the economy and We've seen that by these by these corporations.
Well this is absolutely my personal experience right I mean I spent 25 years in the mainstream sales and I was
accidental I knew nothing about accessibility so when I came in I looked at this thing and it's funny because we use the phrase marketer one right in our presentations all the time because I was a marketing major so you hear about market segmentation you know the baby boomer Gen Zero, Gen Y We actually were pushing forward with the idea that it's a market one because the personalization you know personalized medicine personalized learning is down to that individual so that's why my my whole being or or my my work with uh both both IBM and now with Frances West Co is on this you know on this on this perspective that I personally lived it that this is not about them it's about all of us right it is about ultimate user experience both as an employee as a customer as a supplier and as a citizen right I mean you really have to think holistically and now as maybe I get older because the more I think about it the company actually have an obligation about the society about the community so all this actually tied together is that we have to respect the individual
Yeah, that's a great great point Frances um you know you're you're we're really happy to have you here uh on Web Able TV and then to recognize you as a Champion of Accessibility appreciate your devotion your hard work your leadership over these last uh several years well decades the last couple of days I won't age you too much
but but decades uh you know at this point but um it's it's true your personal contributions to the community of people with disabilities in the professional business of accessibility is really exemplary um and and I think it would be it'd behoove me not to to qualify you as one of our great uh Champions of Accessibility
with with that in mind, Where do you go from here? What are your goals what are your ambitions?
Well, my ambition like I said is now um we're sitting where we are United States I'm a naturalized citizen of the United States so I'm an immigrant first right and this has been a great country that like I mentioned giving me a tremendous opportunity to to um to thrive and um and now I have three grand daughters uh so I'm actually even more uh motivated to make sure that the society in general and workplace or marketplace is inclusive not in a kind of a generic sense but in a personal sense and that um and also watching what happened
you know with some of these movement uh social um like whether it's George Floyd me too situations I think for those of us who are very blessed to be in the accessibility business we actually have an opportunity to bring the conversation to a different angle right and using technology combining technology with humanity to do the right thing um in a win-win situation good for business and good for individual so I just wish that our industry will really um frankly embrace this change as you know the disability or accessibility industry
came out of a compliance kind of a background so sometimes I feel like it could be limiting in our perspective and in some cases understanding of others thinking so I just hope we have the openness to really embrace the the new era that's upon us especially post COVID.
Yeah, well said, well said. Thank you so much Frances. Well Frances, uh west are one of our Champions of Accessibility here on Web Able TV we want to thank you for your time for your contribution we look forward to watching your continued progress uh in your career as Frances West Co Thank you very much thank you. Dave, I'll turn it back to you.
Thank you Mike thank you very very much for another edition of the series Champions of Accessibility with Frances West. I'm Dave Gardy here from our studios near Washington D.C for Web Able TV. Thanks for watching.