Goodbye IBM

This came as shock to me today, but I was just laid off from IBM. It was not a result of performance. They tell me it was because ARIA and working with external browser vendors is no longer a priority. There is still the chance to find work for another group in IBM, and I will probably be looking into that.

I have enjoyed working there, especially on Web 2.0 accessibility and Mozilla.

But, perhaps this will be the opening of new opportunities. I’m always optimistic.

Update: Some more thoughts … I’ve never been laid off before. In fact, everyone I ever worked for was more than pleased with my output. I know that people who understood my work in IBM really appreciated it. We certainly rocked the accessibility world!

I’m not too worried right now, and I’m very open to hearing about opportunities. Mostly, I just like doing things that benefit society. It doesn’t have to be accessibility, and probably doesn’t even have to be software. Realistically, it may be difficult to be given a great opportunity to move and shake outside of software, but you never know. I do like the kind of projects that Benetech gets going. I’m fascinated in potential in Obama’s plans for using technology to better utilize the public in decision-making. I’ve had some cool ideas around that in the past, which in fact can be more general and could be quite fun to work on.

And, don’t be too surprised if I stay in accessibility or even if I find some new opportunity to work on accessibility within Big Blue itself.

If you have a challenging opportunity to run by me, please send a note to aaron at


47 Responses to Goodbye IBM

  1. This is shocking. I am very optimistic about your next thing. Frankly, I think they were holding you back.

  2. steve faulkner says:

    I am sorry to hear this, I hope that some organisation sees the opportunity and snaps you up quick.

  3. Asa Dotzler says:

    That sucks, Aaron. If you don’t stick with IBM, do you think you’d still be doing accessibility thinking/working somewhere?

  4. David Bolter says:

    Aaron, I’m still in shock since our IRC chat.

    Asa, here’s hoping a11y doesn’t lose a shining star.

  5. Steve Lee says:

    Sorry to hear it Aaron, but then again it’s the start of a new phase for your awesome talents and dedication. Keep on rockin’

  6. Henny Swan says:

    Aaron, I am so sorry to hear this news, devastating for you and also for accessibility. Having said that I know you will go on to do even more great things wherever you move to – please stay with accessibility! All the best.

  7. aaronlev says:

    Thanks for all the kind comments!

    I’m not sure what I’ll do yet. I could see staying involved, but also I really need to consider any other good opportunities as well right now.

  8. Jared Smith says:

    Wow! How unfortunate for IBM to lose such a significant player in the accessibility field. Scare times! Best of luck to you in your next step in life.

  9. Deborah says:

    Aaron, sorry to hear the news. What a shock.

  10. Henny Swan says:

    I think my previous comment got munched…So sorry to read your news Aaron, a loss to you and to accessibility. That said I know you will go on to do great things (hopefully in the same field) and wish you all the best.

  11. Laura says:

    Yes, smart to consider your options.

    “When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” – Alexander Graham Bell

    Wishing you all the best.

  12. gandalf says:

    sorry to hear that! Aaron, don’t give up, your work is so important!

  13. Gary Bishop says:

    Doh! I’m so sorry to hear that Aaron. If there is anything an old university prof can do to help, let me know. Grad school?

  14. Jon Gibbins says:

    So sorry to hear about this, Aaron. Your work with Mozilla over the years and with ARIA more recently has been long-admired, and to echo the other comments, I hope that we don’t lose one of accessibility’s star players! Whatever you find yourself doing, all the best with it. I’m sure you’ll be doing great work wherever you end up.

  15. Willie Walker says:

    Crap. This blows, Aaron. Sorry to hear this. 😦 Regardless of what IBM thinks, ARIA is still important and I will continue plugging away at it from the Orca side.

  16. Peter Korn says:

    Aaron, I’m so very sad to hear this, and somewhat stunned. You have been at the center of delivering web accessibility for a long while – practically since the start of it – and done so much good for the industry and for people with disabilities. I hope you find an interesting and rewarding place to continue following your passions.

  17. Wow. That sucks. ARIA is still important in my mind, even if IBM doesn’t view it as such.

    Good luck figuring out what you want to do next.

  18. Tom Wlodkowski says:

    Aaron, sorry to hear the news.

    You told me you wanted to impact our industry when you left AOL and you certainly did that and more with ARIA and Mozilla. I’d enjoy the opportunity to work together with you again.

    Good luck!

  19. Henrik Gemal says:

    Sorry to hear this. The work you have done on the Mozilla project is amazing.

    Take some time to find out what you really really wanna do, and then try to go after it. I’m pretty sure that you succeed.

    Good luck and thanks for all the fish 🙂

  20. Chris Robinson says:

    Hey I was laid off from my Job at IBM a while back. They gave me some time to find other employment at IBM which was easy to find. I am sure that will be the case with you.

  21. Chris Blouch says:

    Nobody likes the feeling of not being in control and having change handed to them. Glad to hear of your positive attitude. Googling ARIA often leads to your insightful comments, detailed discussions and real working code. I sense a sudden sag in the accessible web as one of its proponents enters a twisty maze of passages all alike.

  22. Ken Saunders says:

    Hi Aaron,
    I’ll admit that my first reaction was anger. So it goes I guess that it will always be that the needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few although the number of people with special needs could hardly be called few.

    It’s a shame that a company such as IBM doesn’t consider equality to be a priority and that they feel that browsers and the Internet are accessible enough right now to brush it off as they apparently are.
    I’m more worried about that than I am about you getting work.

    You are a pioneer and a leader in accessibly and whether or not your legacy as such will be properly remembered, we that have had the opportunity and honor to have met you and directly benefit from your efforts will never forget your contributions and advocacy that has still yet to be fully appreciated and used.

    You of course don’t have to restrict yourself to working in accessibility, but, it wouldn’t be so terrible if you stayed with it.

    While is much more accessible than it was a few days ago, and the HTML validates, the CSS has 41 errors and the site uses images for its top level drop down navigation menus so the site could use some help and improvement and while I’m not saying that particular job is right for you, the Government could obviously benefit from your skills and experience.

    You certainly have enough credible and highly regarded references and accolades to get pretty much any job that you’d like so shoot for the sky, challenge yourself, and don’t just settle, you are worthy of more than that.

    On another point of government sites, if you spend just a half an hour or so browsing and assessing their accessibility, I believe that you’d be pretty surprised by the poor state that they are in including sites related to the ADA.
    Here’s one good one for laughs.

    It’s the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy, It has 73 Errors (119 warnings) for its HTML and zooming (text only) to just 133% wrecks the layout.

    You could pursue a position with the government to establish a model of Internet accessibility for all government sites (including government funded ones) to follow.
    The W3C already has the guidelines in place, but you could create a template and guide that makes implementation and compliance easy and consistent.

    There exists something similar for town and city sites that I’ve seen through my access logs for Access Firefox. They all use the same Web template though it never occurred to me until now to check the accessibility of them.

    Well, perhaps I’ve planted a seed. There is a great need for consistency and compliance in regards to accessibility on government sites and I just feel a bit too little to take something like that on, on my own, but I’d certainly participate and support such an initiative and project.

    I wish you the best.

  23. Sally Cain says:

    Aaron, to say I am in shock, would be an understatement. You have contributed to the world of accessibility in more ways than I can think of and your work in Mozilla and on ARIA is changing the face of the internet for all people with disabilities. All I can say is that whoever gets the pleasure of working with you next will be a very lucky organisation.

  24. Gijs says:

    Aaron, I already said this on IRC, but I am as shocked as everyone else. Best of luck in finding a new place. You could come and network at FOSDEM in Brussels in a few weeks? (Feb 7 and 8, weekend). Pretty close to your current location, I think, and no conference fees. And lots of cool open source people! Whatever you do, best of luck to you!

  25. Dan says:

    Thanks for all your hard work, I hope you find more work that you enjoy!

  26. […] Blue has completed over the years. Meanwhile,  IBMers are also starting to blog about the layoffs. Aaron Leventhal writes: This came as shock to me today, but I was just laid off from IBM. It was not a result of […]

  27. Larry Weiss says:

    I’m really sorry to hear about this Aaron. Hopefully, you’ll get even by finding an even better position!

  28. Dan Connolly says:

    Thanks for all your contributions to web accessibility, Aaron.

    Here’s hoping your next gig doesn’t take you too far away…

  29. Dan says:

    I too was shocked by my manager this morning and given the 4 week notice. The severance is good, considering my long stint with them, and opens up quite a few options. This may be the shove I needed to make 2009 a year when I step out of my comfort zone into some new and exciting areas.

  30. Pete Brunet says:

    Aaron, It’s been great working with you over the last few years. IAccessible2 would not be what it is today without your input. And as a result of that the accessibility of Lotus Symphony (and hopefully eventually OpenOffice), and of course Firefox 3 (on Win and Linux), and other projects in the industry that are pretty well along but not yet announced. I hope to be able to work with you again some day. It’s interesting that you mentioned Benetech. I’ve always admired what Jim has done and now that I am in the same boat as you it will be interesting to see what Jim is currently up to. Best wishes for continued success in the future. -Pete

  31. […] IBM’ers are also starting to blog about the layoffs. Aaron Leventhal writes: This came as shock to me today, but I was just laid off from IBM. It was not a result of […]

  32. Kevin says:

    I know how it feels. But cheer up dude, someone as smart as you are should be in the hunt in no time.

  33. Sorry to hear that. But I hope you find better work soon.

  34. maskoko says:

    I am sorry to hear this Aaron …
    Succes for You 🙂

  35. Mike Squillace says:

    Aaron – a real shocker and a disappointment. As someone who is totally blind and having worked with you on a variety of technical projects, I appreciate your work both personally and professionally. You served as a true mentor in the open-source arena. Thank you and best of luck.

  36. Peterk says:

    This makes the fourth time that I’ve undergone a reduction or to use the IBMspeak “resource action” I’m batting .500 been laid-off twice. As someone else mentioned look upon it as an opportunity. In a 30 year career IBM is my 9th employer

  37. Doulos says:

    Eesh, good luck. I work for IBM too in Atlanta, GA (doing remote technical support) and they’re laying some of us off too. I’m actually contracted to IBM but IBM has decided that when our P.O.s are up (and the contracts on long-term supplimental’s) they just aren’t renewing them at this time. Mine luckily has a few more months on it so hopefully business will pick up and they’ll start renewing contracts again!

  38. John Foliot says:

    Shocked! Speechless! (Hoping for a better gig for you – one door slams and another window opens thing…) Good Luck!

  39. Pete Brunet says:

    Part of the “resource action” was cessation of work on IAccessible2. IA2 is an extension to MSAA. MSAA + IA2 is very close to AT-SPI. IA2 allows advanced access, e.g. full access to tables. I’m interesting in your feedback as to how the IAccessible2 effort might proceed from this point forward. The spec and associated text attributes spec are essentially done but someone is still needed to work with developers as they go through a development effort. Please see and provide any insight you might have. Thanks, Pete

  40. Ian I Lloyd says:

    Wow. That’s just crazy. Hoping for the best for you, Aaron. Hope that you still find time to get involved with ARIA and other accessibility stuff in some capacity – would be a shame to have that knowledge disappear. Good luck finding another role (no ARIA-themed pun intended).

  41. Laura Kelley says:

    Aaron — We’ve only worked together peripherally (usually around CSUN), but your passion, dedication, and specialized expertise will be sorely missed by the IBM accessibility community. Good luck and best wishes for the future.

  42. condolences, phew somewhat…
    your work has been inspirational over many years, and sad to hear you even contemplating a change of career.
    you may even be able to use the time to focus more clearly on defining the issues.
    best wishes,

  43. Gary says:

    Aaron – There’s life after IBM. I was a dedicated and hard working employee for over 30 years and my position was eliminated in the 90’s. It came as a bad blow to me but after months in shock I overcame this and have gone on to be successful and a better person. In the 60’s, 70’s, and in the 80’s IBM respected you as an individual and you felt that you were part of their plan but at the end of the 80’s and early 90’s I became only a number and IBM was only interested in their bottom line and somehow forgot about my many accomplishments and dedication over the years and all the hours I put in to make IBM a better company. My father, also an IBMer, with over 35 years of service is still missed today because of his credability and expertise in his field. My Dad is still alive, in his 80’s, and now enjoys life by traveling in his RV. He has been retired now for almost 20 years.

    I have been retired now for 10 years with no raise in my pension and my Dad now retired for 20 years has had one cost of living adjustment.

    I suggest you go after a State or Federal job where at least you get a good retirement and automatic cost of living adjustments.

    Good luck to you and keep your head high.

  44. Håkan W says:

    Sorry to hear that, Aaron. I hope you will get another exciting offer, or IBM will realize your great work and keep you hired in some other dept!

  45. I’ve always been proud of you. Never more so than now as you demonstrate, once again, your ability to learn and grow, your curiosity and interest in the world.

  46. Jonathan Mosen says:

    Aaron, firstly, a sincere thank you for the considerable contribution you have made to the accessibility field over the years. You are someone who gets it, but more than that, has worked tirelessly to improve it.

    Secondly, it is true that sometimes in life we have less control over the cards we are dealt than we’d like, but at least we can control how we play the hand. It sounds like you are in a good head space for playing it well.

    All the best for the future, whether you stay in this industry or not.

  47. a11ysoft says:


    IAccessible2 – What’s next?
    Over the last three years I developed the IAccessible2 interface, defining how screen readers and a11y enabled applications interact with each other.  IAccessible2 is often called IA2.  IA2 extends MSAA allowing addi…..

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