Remembering Accessible Joe

In life, you often need someone to give you a nudge.

That nudge can come in many forms. A word of encouragement that ups your confidence. A long, heartfelt chat that makes you pause, think and change direction. Or an idea you can take on as your own. That’s just to name a few.

A few days ago, I heard that Joseph O’Connor, a well-respected accessibility advocate, died after a long battle with chronic illness. You can read more about Joe in the announcement on his website, and in a nice round-up from Dennis Lembree. Deborah Edwards-Onoro also has a lovely goodbye on her blog. Mike Gifford created a well-deserved Wikipedia page for Joe.

Hearing this news made me deeply sad. Joe helped my career in a way I’m not sure he realized, so I wanted to that share here.

I connected with Joe as a member of the WordPress Accessibility team — how I started contributing to WordPress. Along with Joe, Joe Dolson, Rian Rietveld and Graham Armfield, welcomed my contributions and gave me a home where I felt useful and valued. Joe and I worked together the most on his Cities initiative, which aimed to increase the number of accessibility-ready WordPress themes. I decided to design and build a theme representing Washington D.C. It didn’t quite work out that way though.

I had wanted to create and release a public WordPress theme for awhile. But I stopped short of creating one because I didn’t know how it would be different than everything already out there. Joe’s Cities idea gave me the “nudge” I needed. Accessibility would be the difference in what I made!

As I mentioned, things didn’t go exactly to plan. Once I started brainstorming design ideas, I got more excited about making a minimalistic design, inspired by Zen HabitsAccessible Zen was born, and I released it in June, 2013. I needed that nudge, even if what I made didn’t fit into Joe’s vision. I still learned a ton, and put something accessible out into the world.

Releasing the theme also gave me the confidence to apply to speak at my first WordCamp. The organizers accepted my talk about Accessible Zen, and I delivered it in early 2014. Shortly after, I began a trial at Automattic to work on its Theme Team. I landed that gig, and it shaped my career in countless ways.

All thanks to a nudge from “Accessible” Joe O’Connor. Someone I admired who took the time to share his big idea, and his expertise. Thank you, Joe. I won’t forget what you did and I’ll miss your voice in our community.

Published by David A. Kennedy

I work as a Senior UX Designer at Ad Hoc, focusing on accessibility.