Joseph Karr O’Connor, Accessibility Champion (1953 – 2020)

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This is a post about Joseph Karr O’Connor. Joseph died on January 3, 2020. He was a kind and generous person. He was an expert in making the web work for disabled people. Joseph generously shared his expertise to help make technology accessible. He helped Lainey Feingold when she needed a new website. People all over the world posted their love for Joseph on Twitter, and he now has a deserved Wikipedia entry.

Joseph Karr O'Connor looking serious and dapper in a fedora type hat

Joseph Karr O’Connor died last month at the age of 65. As I get ready to attend the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference next month — for the 20th time — Joseph is on my mind and in my heart. He was a regular attendee and presenter at the conference, using the in-person gathering to cement friendships, like ours, that had been born online.

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Creator and Maintainer of the Global Accessibility Community (and a big help to me)

Joseph was a committed accessibility advocate and a leader in WordPress accessibility. He was kind and exceedingly generous with his time and expertise. He was humble, curious, creative. And along with his wife Linda Karr O’Connor, he was a devoted dad to their disabled daughter Siobhan.

Joseph O’Conor was a builder of the accessibility community who helped many people many times, including me. In 2014 I wrote about one of those times.

That year Joseph was instrumental in my being able to move my rickety old website to a new home. In describing the move in a post on this website titled “Building A Better Twitter Button: A Story Of Community” I wrote:

I asked Joseph Karr O’Connor, WordPress accessibility evangelist extraordinaire, if he could help. In doing everything he could to get my site in shape for the move, Joseph gave me the first taste of the strength and kindness of the WordPress accessibility community.Building a Better Twitter Button”

Strength and kindness. I’m not the only one who felt/feels that way about Joseph and the global accessibility community he was instrumental in building. In a tribute on the WordPress Accessibility site, web developer and accessibility consultant Joe Dolson wrote

Joe was an amazing people person – gentle and kind, and always able to be calm in the face of difficult conversations.

Accessible Twitter is id’d with the hashtag “a11y” — for the eleven (11) letters between the a and the y in the word “accessibility.” Joseph O’Connor, known on social media as @AccessibleJoe, helped grow the global Twitter #a11y community, and that community expressed it’s love on its platform of choice.

The fact that @mgifford, one of the a11y leads of Drupal wrote a wikipedia entry for @AccessibleJoe, one of the a11y leads of WordPress, is so heartwarming and respectful. It shows that the accessibility community is open and caring, regardless of CMS.– @RianRietveld

@AccessibleJoe occupies the rarefied air of one who gives selflessly, generously, and constantly. His contribution to #a11y is tremendous. A cherished friend, now gone. @Accessible_Info

In his WebAxe blog accessibility advocate Dennis Lembree collected other heartfelt — and heart broken — tweets on Accessible Joe’s deeath, passing and included them in his post, Passing of Joseph O’Connor. I invite you to read it for just a small taste of the big hole Joseph has left behind.

Joe deserves Wikipedia

I also invite readers to check out Joseph Karr O’Connor’s Wikipedia page, a labor of love put up by friends and colleagues after his death, including Sarah Horton and Mike Gifford. Wikipedia has some tough roadblocks to getting articles about individuals who aren’t traditionally “famous” to stick. The international accessibility community rallied to make sure Joseph Karr O’Connor had the place he deserved in the world’s encyclopedia.

One of the many Wikipedia rallying cries came from accessibility advocate Morten Rand-Hendriksen who tweeted:

All hands on deck! Web #accessibility expert and influencer @AccessibleJoe passed away this month and now efforts to grant him a @Wikipedia page are being met with resistance from moderators. Documentation of the work Joe did and its impact is needed. #a11y

Accessible Death

How disappointing that the CSUN conference turned down Joe’s final proposal titled “Accessible Death.” Luckily for the world, he posted the full proposal on his website.

The short summary expresses his goal for the not-to-be-delivered talk, and for smoothing the difficult path for his beloved daughter Siobhan:

How will a family member with severe intellectual disabilities experience the death of a parent? These are our plans for accessible death. Joseph Karr O’Connor’s final (rejected) CSUN proposalJoseph O’Connor’s final, and unaccepted, CSUN proposal

The “work Joe did and its impact” is real and lasting. I know for sure there will be a big hole at CSUN this year without Joseph Karr O’Connor’s presence.

Joseph’s obituary can be found on in a blogpost on his website, Black Telephone / disability rights. Joe has requested that gifts in his honor be made to The Aurelia Foundation, which provides community-based day programs to people with developmental disabilities, including his beloved daughter Siobhan.