In Memory of Bill Love: One of Our Own
By Fillmore Love
William Baldridge Loughborough Jr., a devoted disability
rights advocate who played a major role in establishing universal accessibility
to the World Wide Web, died April 7th, in Madrid, Spain. He was 84.
Loughborough, a frequent contributor to Independence
Today, was a prime contributor to the
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and its Web
Accessibility Initiative (WAI), an effort to improve Web accessibilityfor
people with disabilities.
Loughborough, sometimes referred to as Bill Love, was born
January 3rd, 1926, in San Antonio, Texas, to William Baldridge
Loughborough and Catherine Ellen Van Houten. He had two older sisters, Julia
One of his formative childhood experiences was being taken
to see Duke Ellington at the Majestic Theater in San Antonio with Julia. The
show was a colored only performance, and Bill and his sister, with
help from Arabelle Brown, the familys live-in maid, sneaked in to see it.
That was the beginning of Bills lifelong love affair with jazz.
As a boy, he met David Buck Wheat, who would
become his best friend and longtime musical collaborator.
Loughborough attended the Georgia Military Academy from
1937 to 1942, then the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he became,
at 16, one of the youngest freshmen at the college. He left MIT to become a
musician in New York City, where he lived until he joined the U.S. Navy in
1944. He served his tour of duty as a radioman stationed in Norfolk, Va.
He returned to San Antonio in 1949, where he managed a
semiprofessional baseball team and umpired local baseball games. He moved to
San Francisco in 1951, where he continued to work as an umpire.
From 1954 to 1955, he and Buck helped build instruments
for Harry Partch, including the Marimba Eroica, a marimba that
could achieve barely audible notes, below the lowest notes on a piano. Bill and
Buck were inspired by Partch to create their own instrument, the boo
bams, tuned bongos made from hollow bamboo logs that Buck had brought
back from the Philippines. Several jazz groups used boo bams in their
recordings, including Chet Baker, with whom Bill toured and recorded.
In addition to building musical instruments, he and Buck
wrote songs together; Bill wrote lyrics, while Buck wrote music. Their
best-known composition, "Better Than Anything," has become a standard, recorded
and performed by many artists. The best-known artist to perform the song was
Natalie Cole, who recorded it as a duet with Diana Krall on her 2002 album,
"Ask a Woman Who Knows." The album was nominated for several Grammys, including
Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for "Better Than Anything."
Beginning in 1957, Bill and Henry Jacobs, who had met in
Chicago, started a recording studio and released a recording of Alan Watts
reading haiku, as well as other esoteric recordings. He and Henry worked
together with many other musicians and engineers on the Vortex project, which
was sponsored by Berkeley radio station KPFA and the California Academy of
Sciences. The music created by the project was played at shows at the Morrison
Planetarium in San Francisco.
Jacobs was friends with Garry Goodrow, an actor with a new
improvisational theater troupe called The Committee. Bill, who was fascinated
by The Committees satirical-political focus, asked to be troupe founder
Alan Myersons apprentice. His involvement with The Committee lasted for
about seven years and included a stint as its general manager. At the height of
its success, The Committee performed in two theaters, in San Francisco and Los
Bill started working at the University of California
Medical Center as an electronics engineer in the early 1960s, a job that
eventually led to a position with the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute
in the 1970s. He worked for Smith-Kettlewell for more than 30 years, making
many contributions to the world of vision science and rehabilitation.
Among the many achievements during his lifetime,
- Worked on early experimental tactile vision
substitution systems, building the first large-scale mechanical stimulator
- Developed the Smith-Kettlewell light probe, a compact,
miniature light-sensing device with auditory output that enabled blind people
to detect the presence and intensity of light. The device had an active mode
that reflected infrared light off a nearby surface, enabling the user to detect
the reflectance of any point on a surface, assisting in such tasks as
identifying paper money bills or locating the signature line on a check. Many
thousands have been produced and sold.
- Developed the Talking Signs orientation and navigation
system for blind and visually impaired pedestrians. It is a system of coded
infrared transmitters placed at locations of signs or landmarks in the
environment. Its signals are decoded into speech by a hand-held receiver
carried by the blind user. He was also instrumental in commercializing the
- Developed an intuitive and simple-to-use touch-screen
based talking computer access system for blind users. When the user touched any
point on the screen, the information displayed at that location would be read
out in synthetic speech. The system formed the basis of a commercial computer
access system marketed by a major manufacturer.
- Became extremely active in efforts to make the World
Wide Web more accessible to blind and visually impaired users. He served
actively on several working groups of the Web Access Initiative, contributing
to guidelines for Web-authoring software and general Web accessibility. (Some
of his work in this regard is documented at
Bill Love was a devoted advocate for all disabilities and
all aspects of the lives of people with disability. He was the moderator of a
listserv of advocates who sought to improve media coverage of issues relating
to disability. From assisted suicide to abuse of people with mental health
issues to bioethics, he was there, leading or supporting others who were more
informed than he was.
Patricio Figueroa, publisher of Independence Today,
met Bill on Mediatalk, and the two soon they realized they had a great deal in
common. Pat soon recognized Bill's penchant for writing, including his e-mail
messages, which he often signed with "Love." His abstract, yet philosophical
and eloquent, writings were "words of genius," said Figueroa, who offered him a
position as a contributor to Independence Today.
But Bill's passion was Web accessibility and independent
living. In the spring of 2009, Bill went to Spain for a conference on the W3C,
where he met advocates with disabilities from Madrid. He told Figueroa that he
had fallen in love with Madrid and with Spain. He befriended such leading
Spaniard disability advocates as Javier Romañach and Alejandro
and was eager to impart the tenets of the American independent living movement
to his Spanish amigos. He applied for a permanent visa and began writing for
Independence Today. In one e-mail message, Bill said he "
not mind living the remaining time of my life in Spain." He got his wish,
though sooner than he had hoped.
On April 7th, he was found dead, apparently of
a heart attack. Cause of death was listed as "natural/medical." He had heart
disease and a long history of heart problems, including quadruple bypass
surgery many years ago. He had a pacemaker inserted more recently. Despite
that, he was known for his boundless energy and desire to remain active.
He once wrote on Mediatalk: "My personal recommendation,
with no implication that this is an official W3C/WAI position, is that when it
becomes evident that your accessibility suggestions are being stonewalled or
endlessly delayed/deferred you move from passive to active mode and institute
legal proceedings. They (especially government entities) are breaking the law
and violating our human rights to access. Allowing that anti-social behavior to
simply continue (the laissez-faire approach) is no longer an option. If it
takes 'drive-by lawsuits' to achieve a universally accessible/usable Web then
GO FOR IT! -- Love."
"The Web Accessibility Initiative mourns the passing of
William Loughborough, a tireless advocate for accessibility since before the
beginning of WAI," said Judy Brewer, director of WAI. "Over the years William
contributed energetically and enthusiastically across all areas of WAI's work,
from raising awareness to helping ensure a technical foundation that supports
accessibility, never hesitating to ask questions and exhort those around him to
make the Web truly accessible for people with disabilities. William constantly
challenged stereotypes of older Web users as less technically literate and
adventurous, and reminded us that age need not keep one away from the joys of
technology. William, thanks for all your contributions. We'll miss you!" For
years, Loughborough lived on a farm near Yakima, Wash., that he often referred
to as "Loveland."
Loughborough was cremated, and his ashes were escorted
back to the U.S. by one of his daughters. He is survived by six children, four
stepchildren and five grandchildren.
Said Figueroa: "Bill Love left a big void in our community
-- a big, black hole too large to fill by just one person. Vaja con Dios,
amigo! (Go with God, my friend!)"
Note: Fillmore Love is the son of William
Loughborough. Patricio Figueroa Jr. also contributed to this article.