In 2008 I heard that Jim Thatcher was coming to Berkeley as part of his role as the expert in the Target web accessibility case. I had been working in the digital accessibility legal space for ten years. Of course I had heard of Jim, but we had never met. I called and asked if he would be willing to get together. Luckily for me, he said yes.
After that dinner in Berkeley, Jim Thatcher became my friend, my digital accessibility teacher, my accessibility sounding board. His death on December 7, 2019, leaves a huge hole in the accessibility community and in the hearts of his countless friends, colleagues, admirers.
How did Jim Thatcher help my work as a disability rights lawyer? He answered any question with kindness, no matter how obvious the answer was to him. He consulted on some cases, helping explain accessibility barriers and solutions to me, so I could in turn better explain them to the companies we negotiated with.
The Structured Negotiation initiatives with Charles Schwab, Denny’s, WellPoint (Anthem Blue Cross), Weight Watchers, and Major League Baseball all benefitted from Jim’s behind-the-scenes expertise and support.
And there was more. Jim and his wife, potter Diana Seidel, welcomed me into their home during annual trips to Austin for AccessU. Jim helped me with my website. We had lunch together at the annual CSUN conference, where the picture in this post of Jim smiling in the San Diego sunshine was taken.
We groused and strategized about big picture #a11y issues and the state of our field. One of my last emails exchanges with Jim bears the subject line “new thing to worry about.”
But Jim’s friendship meant more to me than the ways in which he helped Structured Negotiation thrive in the digital space. Jim’s leadership and mentorship contributed to the sense — to the reality — that accessibility is a community. That it’s not just a job, it’s not just about money. It’s about inclusion, generosity, and sharing. About doing all you can to make sure disabled people are not excluded from the digital world. About paying it forward.
About being a mentor to new people coming into the space, like I once was.
Jim’s legacy lies not just in developing pioneering screenreader technology. It lies in his generously helping countless people around the globe understand accessibility. It lies in his monumental role in creating the accessibility community so many of us love and cherish.
What people said about Jim on learning he died
Social media this morning is flooded with Jim Thatcher tributes. Here are some:
It’s a terribly sad day for the #a11y world. Here’s to Jim and everything he did for people like me.from Twitter
Oh no… Oh no… How sad. He was so great to interact with. He was such a supportive, encouraging, sensible person. Always so kind to me.from Twitter
What a pioneer in accessibility! He will be missed by all. from Twitter
I remember discovering his accessibility blog in 2007 and enjoyed learning from him and referring back to it ever since. He touched many lives and his work will continue to inspire. from Twitter
Such a significant influencer. An important man. A big loss. from Twitter
Jim was kind enough to help guide me with accessibility tips and tricks back when I was first starting. A true mentor to myself and many others. Thank you for helping make me who I am today. from Twitter
This is just so sad. He helped me out on Accessibility Stuff before there was a WCAG and before HTML had a LABEL tag. So smart and generous! from Twitter
Jim Thatcher was a tireless advocate for accessibility and a mentor to so many. He was one of the inventors of screen reader technology. And he was my friend. He will truly be missed. from Twitter
Jim, your legacy lives on in each of us. I know you will inspire the contributions I make to #a11y for the rest of my life. from Facebook
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He was the North Star to so many of us trying our best to make a difference for the better. from Facebook
Learn more about Jim Thatcher
- Friends and colleagues honored Jim with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 during the CSUN conference. Read Knowbility’s write-up about the award.
- Jim Thatcher retired in 2016 but the Jim Thatcher website remains online as an archive of his work and still-useful accessibility tools and information. For two years the site was maintained by the Digital Gap Initiative in Australia. Today it is hosted by Knowbility.
- Here’s a history of accessibility at IBM, from the American Foundation of the Blind website, of course featuring Jim’s role in developing screen reader technology.
- In 2008 Jim received the Outstanding Contribution Award from SIG Access (the Special Interest Group on Accessible Computing)
- Jim was a contributor (along with other leaders in the accessibility space) to a 2002 book titled Constructing Accessible Websites As I’ve said before, accessibility is not new just because a handful of lawyers have discovered it.
- Jim also contributed to the 2006 classic, Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance