Dr. Jim Thatcher received his PhD from the University of Michigan in 1963, one of the first PhD’s in Computer Science. Together with his thesis advisor, Dr. Jesse Wright, Jim then joined the Mathematical Sciences Department of IBM Research, where he stayed until 1996.

Dr. Thatcher began moving towards practical computing when he and Dr. Wright, who was blind, started working on an “audio access system” for the IBM Personal Computer, a system for providing on-screen information to a blind user through synthesised voice. This work culminated in the development of one of the first screen readers for DOS in 1984, called IBM Screen Reader. He later led the development of IBM Screen Reader/2, the first screen reader for a graphical user interface on the PC.

In 1996 Dr. Thatcher joined the IBM Accessibility Center in Austin, Texas, where he led the effort to include accessibility in the IBM development process. A key part of that effort was the establishment of the IBM Accessibility Guidelines specifically for use within IBM’s development community.

In 2008 Dr. Thatcher received the 1st ACM SIGACCESS Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computing and Accessibility. The award recognises individuals who have made significant and lasting contributions to the development of computing technologies which improve the accessibility of media and services to people with disabilities. The award was presented to Dr. Thatcher by SIGACCESS Chair Vicki Hanson at the ASSETS 2008 Conference Dinner. The slides of Vicki Hanson’s presentation can be downloaded in PDF format. This was followed by an after dinner speech by Dr. Thatcher during which he humbly and humorously discussed his work in the field of accessibility and the pioneering work that led to the development of the screen reader.