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Icons of Progress

The Accessible Workforce

The steadfast efforts of scores of researchers, managers and other professionals at IBM throughout its history have helped to make the company a leader in expanding accessibility for people with disabilities. The following profiles highlight just a few of the dedicated people who have worked at the forefront of the accessibility movement.

  • Michael Supa 

    Michael Supa
    “No person is handicapped if he has the right job.” – Michael Supa

    Michael Supa was just 24 years old when IBM hired him in 1942 to create a program for recruiting and training people with disabilities. Raised in Binghamton, New York, Supa was blinded early in childhood but went on to attend Colgate University—and graduate as valedictorian—with the help of his seeing-eye dog, Taffy (a story chronicled in the New York Times in 1936). Supa earned his master’s degree at Cornell University before joining IBM at its Endicott offices, where over his 37-year career he worked to formalize IBM’s commitment to people with disabilities. During his tenure, the company opened a New York City training center for the disabled, subcontracted work to sheltered workshops, and expanded its benefits plan to cover disabilities. Known for his formidable intellect and sunny outlook, Supa was honored with a Citation for Meritorious Service from the US President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped in 1958, and demonstrated the reading of Braille for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was equal-opportunity administrator at IBM at the time of his death in 1980.

  • Dr. Chieko Asakawa 

    Dr. Chieko Asakawa
    “Information technology can greatly improve both quality of life and quality of work for people with visual impairments.” – Dr. Chieko Asakawa

    As an IBM Fellow, Dr. Chieko Asakawa holds IBM’s highest technical honor and is one of an elite group representing the company’s most exceptional innovators. Asakawa joined IBM Research - Tokyo in 1985, and set out to pursue accessibility research a decade before accessibility was defined as a field. In the 1980s, she helped develop a digital Braille transcription system that sped the transcription process, and further opened the web to non-visual access through her subsequent development of the IBM Home Page Reader and the Social Accessibility Project. Asakawa’s numerous contributions in the field of accessibility technology—she holds 20 patents—have helped to change the way visually disabled individuals communicate and interact, and have made IBM a worldwide leader in the field. In addition to her IBM Fellow designation, she is an Information Processing Society of Japan Fellow and a Women in Technology International Hall of Fame inductee. She was also honored with the 2010 Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award.

  • Frances W. West 

    Frances West
    “We believe technology can be the equalizer for people with special needs or disabilities” – Frances W. West

    As the director of the Human Ability and Accessibility Center for IBM, Frances West is responsible for establishing IBM leadership in accessibility through IBM technology, thought leadership, products and solutions on a worldwide basis. Her team is based in IBM Research but works across all divisions of IBM. A 31-year IBM veteran, West has served in a variety of roles, including director of channels, alliances and business development for the IBM Lotus Software Group and director of global financial services solutions in the IBM Global Services organization. In addition, she has held various management positions within the IBM Sales and Marketing organization, where she was responsible for hardware and software sales, IBM Business Partner and alliance management, and strategic investment in emerging markets. West sits on the board of directors of the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA), a non-profit trade group of companies involved in providing products and services that use technology to assist people with disabilities. Recognized as an international expert on accessibility, West is a frequent guest speaker on the topic, and has testified in Congress about the importance of furthering the development of IT accessibility.

  • Dr. Fred Jelinek 

    Fred Jelinek

    Dr. Fred Jelinek earned his PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and served on the faculty of Cornell University in New York before joining IBM Research in 1972. At IBM, Jelinek carried out groundbreaking research in continuous speech recognition, machine language translation, and text parsing and understanding. He is credited by many with creating the technical foundations of the modern fields of speech recognition and natural language processing. Jelinek’s advances made it possible for computers to understand, transcribe, and translate written and spoken language, discoveries that extended word-processing capabilities to people with visual and motor impairments. A prominent scholar, Jelinek authored the books Probabilistic Information Theory and Statistical Methods for Speech Recognition. Among other honors, he was a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the International Speech Communication Association (ISCA), and was elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Jelinek left IBM in 1993 to join the faculty of Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. He served as the Julian Sinclair Smith Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the director of the Center for Language and Speech Processing at the university until his death in 2010.

  • Richard Schwerdtfeger 

    Richard Schwerdtfeger
    Richard is an internationally recognized expert on accessibility with twenty years of accessibility experience.

    Richard is the Chief Technology Officer, Accessibility, for IBM Software, an IBM Distinguished Engineer and Master Inventor. His responsibilities include overall accessibility architecture and strategy for Software Group. Richard participates in numerous W3C standards efforts including HTML 5, WAI Protocols and Formats, and Ubiquitous Web Applications. Richard created and chairs the W3C WAI-ARIA accessibility standards effort for Web 2.0 applications as well as the IMS GLC Access for All accessibility standards efforts. He also formed and co-chairs the Open Ajax Alliance Accessibility Tools Task Force, which is leading the industry in establishing new WCAG 2 accessibility rule sets and reporting best practices needed to support Web 2.0 applications. Richard is a former steering committee member of the Accessibility Interoperability Alliance and a member of Raising the Floor’s team of experts working on a Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure focusing on cloud-based personalized access. Richard joined IBM at the Watson Research Center in 1993 where he helped design and develop Screen Reader/2. He, later, led numerous accessibility efforts at IBM, including: the collaboration with Sun on Java accessibility where he co-architected the Java Accessibility API and the IBM Self Voicing Kit for Java; the Web Accessibility Gateway for seniors; and the IAccessible2 strategy.

  • Matt King 

    Matt King
    “We need not expect less from someone just because they have a disability. Low expectations are easily learned and are one of the most common cripplers of success.” – Matt King

    Chief I/T Accessibility Strategist Matt King provides strategic and technical direction for CIO programs and projects to ensure IBM’s IT workplace is fully accessible. This includes driving compliance to accessibility standards for all IBM’s business applications, IBM web sites and communications solutions as well as ensuring IT accommodation programs for employees with disabilities are effective. His top concern is making sure every employee, regardless of disability, has the opportunity to be competitively productive. Matt also participates in the formation of accessibility standards as a member of W3C, has published papers, and presents at accessibility conferences. Matt’s interest in accessibility extends well beyond his 21-year IBM career, as he is blind from retinitis pigmentosa and has been using and working on assistive technologies since the 1980s. Matt has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering and Music from University of Notre Dame. He is an accomplished track cyclist, having competed in three Paralympic Games and won numerous national and international medals and a world record. Matt also enjoys sharing his stories and insights as a motivational speaker. Matt and his wife, Kim, live in Bend, Oregon and with their daughter, Lavyn, and son, Spencer.

  • Andi Snow-Weaver 

    “We see the real power of open source when the community comes together to close the digital divide affecting people with disabilities, the aging community and a diverse, multilingual world

    Andi Snow-Weaver brings more than 20 years of user interface and accessibility experience to her role in leading IBM’s worldwide involvement with international accessibility standards organizations. She is responsible for bringing industry-specific expertise to the development of worldwide IT accessibility standards, as well as for driving internal IBM standards that uphold the company’s longstanding commitment to IT leadership for people with disabilities.