American web accessibility champion Jim Thatcher has passed away

This first post on the ‘Accessibility Central’ hub of DGI’s new website is devoted to the news of the passing of American web accessibility champion Jim Thatcher.

It is a fitting, though very sorrowful, post to introduce this new hub of our new website. 

The ‘Accessibility Central’ hub of DGI’s new website is a place where you will be able to find news, events, resources and everything relating to digital accessibility sourced from all around the world.

And Jim Thatcher was, and will live on to be, Mr Accessibility.

Here are a few of Jim Thatcher’s illustrious contributions in a life dedicated to making the digital world more accessible and inclusive:

  • Developed one of the first screen access systems for blind computer users, IBM Screen Reader for DOS (1984-1986) and Screen Reader/2 for OS/2, the first access system for a graphical user interface on the PC (1988-1991).
  • Led the effort to bring accessibility into the IBM development process (1996-2000)
  • Vice-Chair of the EITAAC, the Advisory Committee empanelled by the Access Board to draft the Section 508 Accessibility Standards (1999)
  • Auditor of for the Attorney General of New York State (2004-2006)
  • Lead author of the highly acclaimed new book, “Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance” (2006 – first edition, 2003)
  • Expert Witness for the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) in the matter of NFB vs. Target (2006-2007)
  • Designated consultant in the NFB and Amazon Agreement (2007)

A small role for DGI in this story

In November 2016, former DGI team member James Newton and I stumbled on the fact that Jim Thatcher’s website was down, and emails we sent to him bounced. This was highly unusual.

Despite his workload and his high-profile, Jim Thatcher always took time to connect with people at a personal level. Both James and I had experienced Jim’s generosity of spirit when we had individually contacted him to seek his expert advice on accessibility questions. Jim never failed to answer our emails and to freely share his phenomenal knowledge.

We contacted our friend in the U.S., disability rights lawyer Lainey Feingold. Lainey advised that she had just learned herself that Jim Thatcher was very ill, and she connected us with Jim’s wife, Diana Seidel.

Diana wrote to us, explaining that Jim was too ill to manage his website, and she was unable to take it over. James Newton and I, who, at the time, were basically the only active members of the ‘DGI team’, decided something had to be done to rescue Jim’s legacy. So, we reached out to Diana and boldly proposed to take on the role of hosting Jim’s site as an archive. Somewhat to our surprise, Diana readily agreed.

We were touched by Diana’s trust in little nobody DGI, so far away in Australia.

And so, it was that DGI came to host for 2 years.

But in 2018, when Lainey came to Australia on her second visit, I confided to her that we were struggling to maintain both our flagging website and the Jim Thatcher website. But we didn’t want to relinquish the responsibility we had taken on for the website until we found a new home for the archive.

Our beautiful friend Lainey connected us with the folks at Knowbility.

And so, heartened by the knowledge that the website was returning to its ‘home ground’ and into safe hands, the handover was arranged.

Lainey’s tribute

Tributes to the wonderful Jim Thatcher are now flooding the social media world.

We urge our readers to read Lainey Feingold’s tribute to Jim Thatcher here:

Jim Thatcher, Accessibility Giant, Dies at 83

Read the official obituary for Jim Thatcher in the Highlands Current and Austin American Statesman.

Farewell Jim: You have paved the way for creating a more accessible digital world.

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