mobile computing

As an accessibility expert and advocate, I have often wondered,

How hard is it for a person to get access to the latest version of JAWs?

The answer to this question is important, especially when I’m testing the accessibility of UT web offerings. If I happen to have JAWS 10 beta installed, but my student population doesn’t have access to that version yet, I could end up reporting that content is accessible, when in reality, my students might be unable to get to the information.

Recently, I was asked to test and report on the accessibility of iTunes, especially the iTunes U area. In my previous post, I was delighted to report that the iTunes 8 application is delightfully accessible to screenreaders. But, if you look closely, you will notice that I was using JAWS 10 beta. Which brings me back to the question, “How hard is it for my students, who need it, to get access to the latest version of JAWS when they need it?”

My first call was to the UT Services for Students with Disabilities, where I discovered that our assistive technology labs currently have JAWS 9 installed. After talking to the lab manager, I learned that he would easily be able to upgrade to whatever version of JAWS was required. Excellent! Another piece of the puzzle falls into place.

But, let’s be honest, while assistive technology labs are nice, they are not open 24/7. So, a bigger question was, “How hard would it be for my students to get an upgrade to their own version of JAWS?” This question led me to the Texas Department of Rehabilitative Services (DARS) which provides transition services for people with disabilities, including adaptive tools like JAWS. I was relieved to learn that students who had already received a full copy of JAWS from DARS would easily be able to get the upgraded version if it was clear that it was needed for them to be successful at UT.

Woot! I can now say, without reservation, the iTunes 8 application including iTunes U, is accessible!

Upon hearing this statement, my accessibility buddies would likely pepper me with the following questions:

  • What about the content of iTunes? Is the content fully accessible? – Notice that I was not testing the content, I was testing the application. Each piece of content (like audio, video) would need to have an appropriate transcript and/or captioining.
  • What about people who use a screenreader other than JAWS, is iTunes accessible to them too? – The answer to that question is up to each screenreader manufacturer. I have confirmed that iTunes 8 is accessible to both JAWS and Window Eyes. In fact, any screenreader based on MSAA (Microsoft Active Accessibility) is capable of working with iTunes 8. Do note, that the screenreader manufacturer may need to update their application.
  • What about other disabilities? Is the iTunes 8 application accessible for people who are deaf, mobility impaired or have cognitive disabilities? – When testing for accessibility, I follow the US Federal 508 Standard, with an eye for WCAG 2.0’s principles of Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust (POUR). And indeed, the iTunes 8 application meets these requirements. Remember, I’m talking about the application, not the content. For the content to be accessible, each entity that contributes content will have to ensure that they have included the necessary captions and transcripts.

My hat is off to Apple. They have done an outstanding job of proactively working with assistive technology vendors and building an application that is accessible to everyone. Thank you Apple.

I’m thrilled to be going to Chicago, May 13-17 to the American Association of Museums this year to present on the panel “Multiple Choice Mobile Audio: Latest Research on Visitor Preferences”. What an honor to share our research beside people I deeply admire: Peter Samis (Associate Curator, Interpretation, SFMoMA), Johanna Jones (Managing Director, Randi Korn & Associates) and Leora Kornfeld (Principal, Ubiquity Interactive). What will we all be talking about? The panel description says:

Gain a comparative picture of the current state of mobile touring technologies, including iPods and mobile phones. Are audio tours a thing of the past? Have they been supplanted by mobile technologies such as podcasts, or simply reborn? What are the new opportunities for visitor participation born of these technologies? Ponder recent research on visitor satisfaction with various mobile experience formats, and address the staffing implications to produce and deliver each one.

I can’t wait to share what we’ve learned and hear the perspectives of my esteemed colleagues.

I’m in a quandry. I’m producing podcasts for my favorite museum and I want to make them very accessible. I’ve taken the time to add the transcript for each podcast to the lyrics metadata of each mp3…only to discover that the most current iPods deny me the joy of seeing the transcript/lyrics.

A cheesy solution is to dump the transcript into the rss feed for the podcast in the description. It doesn’t feel symantically proper…but it does allow even ancient iPods (like my iPod mini) to access the transcript.

So, at the moment, I’ve doubled up. I want to leave the transcript in the lyrics because that is semantically correct. But I have to put the transcripts in the description if I want anyone to actually see them on their iPod.

What do you think? Should I keep it doubled up? Or should I just put the transcript in the description?

And of course, I’ll be talkin’ to Apple asking them about their plans to solve this problem in the future.

Are you surfing the web from a mobile device? Wish you could just guess at the URL? Hmmmmm….I wonder if it is or perhaps maybe I’ll try or even Damn it sure is hard to guess mobile URLs.

Worse…while trying to guess the mobile URL…how many precious bytes of bandwidth do you chew up downloading pages that were designed for dual 30″ cinema display? Ouch!

I wish they would just create a TLD for mobile so I could easily guess the mobile url for a site and have confidence that the pages I’m downloading were designed with mobile devices in mind.

(Poof – .mobi wish already granted May 22, 2006)

So why am I sharing this with you today? Because our site has now been live since the summer of 2006. Come take a look around.

Do you have your dotmobi on?

Oooooooo! Do you love books? A friend shared a new toy with me called LibraryThing. It is a place for you to catalogue the books you’ve read, tag them and rate them. But LibraryThing doesn’t stop there…it is oh so very Web 2.0 when it connects you to other people through recommendations, groups and friends.

And just when I thought it couldn’t possible be any better, I found LibraryThing Mobile. You can check your bookshelf quickly and easily from your mobile phone while you are standing in the bookstore trying to remember which books you’ve read by a prolific author.

Catch me quick, I’m about to faint. I heart LibraryThing. Thanks Ladd for sharing!

The web she is a changing. Audio and video are becoming common…so common that iTunes is partnering with universities to create iTunesU. What is iTunesU? It is a discovery tool, a one-click easy content distribution tool and it even has a content contribution interface for students and faculty to upload their own content. How totally delicious is that?

As my iTunesU t-shirt says…”It is like having a prof in your pocket.”

Standford and Berkeley are already on board. Now, I’d like you to put on your “big dream” glasses and tell me what you would hope to discover in a UT Austin version of iTunesU. Imagine you are a student, faculty, alumni, lifelong learner and/or sports fan. No idea is too big or too small!

a lime wearing a green ipod

Friday’s are perfect for fieldtrips. Time to get out of the office and explore technology in the real world. This morning I found myself at Whole Foods with Megan checking out the iPod audio tour of the store. What? An audio tour of a grocery store? Mmmmmhmmmm. And, let me say, Whole Foods is more like a food exploratorium than a grocery store.

Whole Foods has teamed up with Apple and KUT to create a 20 minute tour highlighting some of my favorite features of the store like Beer Alley and Candy Island. And if that isn’t enough, Waterloo Records loaded the iPods with tunes that will have you dancing through the aisles.

Now for a little plus delta review.


  • Quality Audio – A lot of thought was obviously put in to the tour script. I found each segment to be interesting and the variety of voices made me feel like I was on a backstage tour. Audio production was obviously done by experienced professionals.
  • Perfect Length – What is the right length? For me, it always leaves me wanting a bit more. I actually listened to the whole 20 minute tour and found it enjoyable.
  • Sweet Music – I love the idea of being able to check out an iPod preloaded by Waterloo Records with delicious music to shop by.
  • Cool Factor – Ya gotta admit, an iPod tour of a grocery store is hot!


  • Shuffle – my iPod was set to shuffle, so after listening to the introduction in the produce section, it then skipped to the conclusion…oops! I was able to turn shuffle off, but an inexperienced iPoder would have been lost.
  • Continuous Play – iPods are designed for listening to music. The continuous play feature made me feel rushed. It wasn’t until I got to Beer Alley that I thought…hey, I’m not ready to leave here yet, and pressed pause. Easy for me, but not obvious to iPod neophytes
  • Start Point – When Megan was handed her iPod, it was set to the architecture tour, rather than the store tour. It took her a while to realize that my tour must be different (as I left her in the dust over by the artichokes). Finding the store tour took some sleuthing on her part that could have been a brick wall for other users.

So, my overall experience was very positive. The only issues I had were inherent to the iPod interface itself. Reminds me of a wonderful quote from Peter Samis’ recent paper on artcasting:

Podcasts are a new format and require a new way of thinking about audio tours – it’s best not to use podcasts as object-specific guides. Unlike keypad-based tours, iPods require familiarity with the clickwheel at their center. For visitors who have never used an iPod – and there are millions of such elders in the museum-going population – the clickwheel can be utterly mystifying. What do you click? How do you adjust the volume? What happens if you inadvertently press the back arrow or, worse yet, hit the Menu button and leap out of the playlist altogether? Such uncertainties can leave a visitor feeling hopelessly lost. (Moss, 2006)

So, the next time you are in the Whole Foods in Austin on Lamar, stop by customer service and get your hands on a hot iPod mini to enhance your explorations of this market mecca.

unadorned canvas with a slit cut down the middle at a slight angle

How is it that a museum can touch me so deeply? Perhaps it is because I’m still new to the adventure that contemporary art offers. Where an initial impression might be “Dear Lord, what is that?” or perhaps a good hard laugh…like when I approached Spatial Concept ‘Waiting’ by Lucio Fontana.

Honestly, a slashed canvas didn’t move me. But, armed with an Antenna Audio PDA, I dove into the interpretation…and discovered a doorway in. Simplicity, movement, sculpture, opening, opportunity…the hole became a portal to my future. And I knew, with all my heart…that when given that small window…I’m ready to look, listen, taste, consider and leap.

large egglike sculpture with a vertical opening.  white on outside, reflective deep red, almost black on the inside

And while bonding with “Waiting” required a little interpretive help from the PDA…my connection to Anish Kapoor’s Ishi’s Light 2003 was instant. I didn’t need to know the title or have anyone tell me what this work might mean…I understood instinctually…as though the piece spoke directly to my soul. When I resonate with a work of art like this, it is as though I have found completeness. My mind clears and I feel as though I’ve been filled with light. I could stay there all day…but realize I don’t need to…because once I’ve experience a work on this level…it becomes a part of me.

I wonder if the energy I feel pouring off Ishi’s Light comes directly from the artist…or if the work actually absorbs and reflects the élan of all the souls that have communed with it.

So, what about you? Have you ever “fallen into a work of art with all of your being”? Do you ever connect with a piece without knowing anything about it? Have you ever initially rejected a work as junk only to fall in love with it later? Tell me…I want to know.

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