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Asking the right questions: a tribute to Dan Jellinek

As many readers of e-Access Bulletin will know, the publication’s editor and founder, Dan Jellinek, passed away in October last year. This tragic event was completely unexpected and utterly devastating news for everyone that knew Dan. As well as the immeasurable loss to his family, countless good friends and colleagues, Dan’s passing will also be felt deeply throughout the digital accessibility sector, an area to which he contributed so much invaluable work.

Accessibility was not Dan’s only area of expertise and interest, but it was always a sustained passion and something he felt compelled to cover journalistically. This was probably because he knew that intelligent, informed, progressive coverage – which his always was – could help push forward the important issues and the debates that needed to be had.

To mark his achievements in the sector, some of his many friends and colleagues have paid tribute to Dan, sharing their thoughts about his work and influence on digital accessibility.

- Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion, AbilityNet:
“I was shocked and deeply saddened when I heard of Dan’s passing. I had known Dan for well over a decade and admired his work, but even more so Dan as a person. He had a way of quietly asking the right questions, both when interviewing you for the always-informative e-Access Bulletin and when chatting over a coffee about the state of the world, and in particular how it could be made a better place through people embracing a more inclusive approach to technology and design.

“Dan’s quiet and thoughtful demeanour belied a huge force for good that continually made an impact on those around him. From individuals who went away feeling completely different about accessibility and how important it is for so many thousands and millions of people in the UK and across the world, to government and large corporates, whose agendas have been influenced for the better by Dan’s wise and insightful input – the cause of accessibility and digital inclusion undoubtedly owes a lot to this kind and focused man. Dan – we’ll miss you.”

- Derek Parkinson, copywriter and journalist, and former deputy editor of e-Access Bulletin:
“‘We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works,’ said author Douglas Adams. That really matters when, as Dan clearly understood, technology has the potential to transform the way we live: our work, education, relationships, entertainment, access to public services and political engagement. This was reflected in Dan’s aim for e-Access Bulletin to cover a very broad range of topics, unlike most technology-oriented publications.”

“Technology often fails to be ‘stuff that works’ for people with impaired vision, and even if adaptive devices are available they can be expensive. In any case, these are attempts to compensate for problems – why not design for everyone from the start? This has a moral dimension, pointing to wider concerns for society, such as fairness, inclusion and social cohesion, as well as what makes sense commercially. It’s the right thing to do, as well as the most astute.

“These are big and important questions, but what practical steps can we take right now? Users – real, live ones! – could and should be at the centre of design. Dan was always keen to put this into practice by encouraging readers to comment on the accessibility of e-Access Bulletin itself. This paved the way for the TEN standard, a set of guidelines for making email newsletters more compatible with screen-reader technology.

“Dan was extremely well-read, often illustrating a point with a softly spoken quote from a favourite writer, such as Samuel Beckett. Although offered a place at Cambridge University to study maths, he persuaded the dons that English was his true home. He was passionate about writing and convinced of the power of the written word – in this case, journalism – to reach people and bring about positive change. It pleased him when the bulletin gave him renewed hope, as it often did, that success in both these is achievable.”

- Mel Poluck, freelance writer:
“E-Access Bulletin and the e-Access annual conferences provided a well-needed forum for an intelligent debate on accessibility for many years. I really enjoyed working with Dan on both. I learned so much about accessibility and the vision-impaired community from the bulletin, and learned huge amounts about writing, kindness and integrity from Dan.

“He flew the flag for independent, good quality journalism, as well as access to technology, in his diligent, humble way. I think Dan would be chuffed to know that e-Access Bulletin is continuing in good hands. He fought hard to maintain it.”

- Nigel Lewis, chief executive officer of technology charity AbiltyNet:
“Coming to work for AbilityNet many years ago, it was my privilege to meet Dan through his passion for accessible technology. We worked on a number of e-Access conferences together, which became the UK’s leading annual accessibility conference. Dan brought a wide range of experts together, not only to help develop the event, but also as great contributors and speakers.

“Even when times got tough, he maintained his passion for the conference and for accessibility, as he understood how good, accessible technology could transform a person’s life, liberating them at home, at work or in education. He was a lovely man and will be sadly missed.”

- John Lamb, editor and publisher, Ability magazine:
“Dan was a real gentleman, who achieved a great deal in a quiet, determined way. His promotion of accessibility through his writing and the many projects that he initiated did a lot to raise awareness of the online barriers disabled people face. His e-Access conferences brought technologists, big companies and disabled people together to thrash out the issues involved in opening up digital systems to disabled people. Apart from being a first-class writer, Dan was a great networker. He knew everyone and everyone knew him.

“A meeting with Dan was always something to look forward to. Brimming with ideas, he had a knack of being able to mould them to suit whoever he was talking to. Modest and charming, Dan was also tenacious. If he thought he had a good idea, he wouldn’t give it up easily. The ‘Go On Gold’ project in 2012 was a good example. It took advantage of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to draw people’s attention to the need for accessible digital services, but Dan had to work hard to bring people and the necessary funds together to make it happen. His writing and editing was to a very high standard, which made him a pleasure to work with.”

- Jonathan Hassell, accessibility director, Open Inclusion:
“Dan was a great man. His annual e-Access conferences and e-Access Bulletin have been essential in keeping Britain at the forefront of progress towards digital inclusion since 2007. Disabled people all over the UK have a huge amount to thank him for, as do I.”

- Pedro Zurita, secretary general of the World Blind Union, 1986-2000:
“I was deeply saddened when I learned that Dan had passed away. About 12 years ago I was in regular contact with him, regarding the preparation of a monthly Spanish version of e-Access Bulletin. I never had the privilege or pleasure to meet Dan personally, but in my frequent exchanges of emails with him I could undoubtedly sense his most genuine compassion for human beings, and I could very clearly perceive that his efforts towards achieving accessibility for all were an essential element in his life philosophy. It is indeed an enriching experience to encounter human jewels like Dan Jellinek in our life’s journey.”

- Kevin Carey, chair of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB):
“Tributes to the dead, particularly the untimely dead, usually begin with public achievements, completed and truncated, and finish with something about how he loved his family and liked crime fiction. With Dan Jellinek it has to be precisely the other way round. You have to begin with the man, because everything else sprang from that. My supporters and opponents would equally agree that I’m on the feisty side – whereas Dan never said a hard word or, as far as I know, had any opponents. I maintained that this would never get things done, but with Dan it did – more often that it did with feisty me.

“When Dan and I started e-Access Bulletin just before the millennium, we were still more-or-less in thrall to the Microsoft monopoly as part of the PC bundle, and so Dan oversaw a tremendous technological explosion in the generic world and – as the good journalist he was – tracked all the implications for blind and partially sighted people. Yes, good journalist! Whoever heard of a gentle journalist?

“For Dan, the accessibility framework within which he worked fitted into a larger, liberal framework of human rights and transparent democracy. He was very wise in the matter of politics but, for a partisan like me, he had this habit of seeing both – or even more than two – sides. But, journalist that he was, he always had his evidence for the story.

“I will always relish the time in restaurants and pubs that we had, even more than the time spent with accessible technology. He loved his cricket, but I only learned at his funeral that he loved Beckett. I wish he had told me, because this would have led to yet another glorious conversational strand.”

- Tristan Parker, e-Access Bulletin editor (from 2016):
“This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write. That thought rolled around my head constantly as I tried to sum-up a part of Dan’s legacy and explain exactly why I respected him so much – and all to be aired in his own publication, which he produced with such care and insight. Writing this is difficult and saddening, though I can take a little comfort in realising that anyone who knew, met or just corresponded with Dan will already know about some of his many qualities.

“Technology can be an intimidating, impenetrable thing, often for those who need it most but can’t use it, but also for those who use it and work with it every day. Dan understood perfectly how to present complex ideas and stories about accessible technology in a way that hit the right notes with both of these groups – and everyone in between.

“In doing so, he created a publication that was not just informative, but genuinely useful in a practical sense, for a lot of people. And through this, he upheld the message at the heart of the bulletin and digital accessibility as a wider concept: ‘Access to technology for all, regardless of ability’.

“On a personal level – and as I’ve mentioned to some of his family and friends – I owe Dan an incredible debt of gratitude. He gave me my first full-time job in journalism, taught me about publishing and valued my opinions from the start. Having him as an editor was an invaluable benefit, and it was always a pleasure to spend time with him socially as well.

“It’s also worth stressing that e-Access Bulletin wouldn’t have been relaunched last month if it weren’t for Dan’s continual hard work to secure a future for it. Everyone who has gained anything from the bulletin, whether it’s useful information or simply enjoyment of an article, has Dan to thank for that – though he would doubtless deflect any such praise, and point out that pursuing the greater good and asking the right questions along the way are what matters.

“Dan, I’ll do my very best to continue that grand pursuit and to keep asking the kind of questions I think you would have. At least I was lucky enough for you to give me a glimpse of how to go about it.”


  1. Martin Greenwood | April 6th, 2016 | 11:07 am

    Having been away when this new batch of comments about Dan were published, I would now like to endorse fully what others have said about Dan’s passion about web accessibility and his personal qualities that helped greatly sell the message. Although Socitm was never directly involved in the E-access bulletin and the annual supporting conference, I would like to think that we were very supportive of its key messages and Dan often shared with me what he was thinking about on the topic (eg in planning the successful annual Building perfect council website events which we ran together). Certainly, our own annual Better connected reports always built accessibility strongly into our assessments and advice about improving the online experience. Dan’s commitment to the topic always helped maintain our own support.
    It’s great that the E-access brand will continue and very many of us will be grateful to Tristan for taking this on.

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