On December 7, 2019, the world lost one of the foremost pioneers in the field of accessibility: Jim Thatcher. Influenced by his blind thesis advisor at the University of Michigan, Thatcher started his work on an “audio access system” for the first versions of personal computers during his early years at IBM. A few short years later, in 1986, IBM released the IBM Screen Reader, precursor to the screen readers available today. Excited with what he and his team had achieved, Thatcher continued his work at IBM and eventually helmed the effort to construct the IBM Screen Reader/2, which was the first screen reader created for computers with graphical user interface (GUI). He also helped develop the IBM Home Page Reader (the “talking” browser), which was popular for several years within the blind and low-vision community.
Jim would go on to receive multiple awards over the course of his 37-year career with IBM. The National Federation of the Blind awarded him a Distinguished Service Award, and he was also the recipient of the Vice President’s Hammer Award, as a result of his work with the Department of Education. Five years before he retired in 2016 he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by members of the accessibility community at CSUN. Along with his work at IBM and as a disability advocate, Thatcher also contributed to a few books, most notably the 2006 classic staple of digital accessibility “Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance.”
One of his ardent supporters said it best: 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.
To listen to a podcast interview with Jim Thatcher, check out the Eyes on Success podcast.