museums


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 counting the moments until SXSWi 2008 begins. Every year holds new adventures like the Bike Hugger Beer & BBQ on Saturday, March 8.

Imagine…free beer, bikers, bbq and the latest buzz on the IE8 Browser from WaSP…does that sounds like geek heaven, or what?

And, for the true biker, don’t miss the first ever Bike Hugger Urban Ride with stops at REI and the Blanton Museum of Art, with the Bike Hugger Beer BBQ as the final destination.

See you there!

your media, pachyderm templates, visual stories

Have you ever stood in front of a work of art and thought, “What is that? I don’t get it.” Then you wander about looking for the label only to discover that it says “Untitled”. Looking at art I sometimes feel as though I’m standing outside an invitation only party and I can’t find my invite. To be fair, my chance to personally connect with the art can often be quite obvious, if only (sigh) if only, I would remember to drop my “don’t make me think” attitude in the trash can.

In my dreams, all the vast amounts of valuable information about each work of art would be easily accessible and (gasp) open to tagging and comments from you. Many museums and artists are already exploring how to make this fantasy a reality. One of my favorite players in this arena is the New Media Consortium (NMC). The folks at NMC really know how to spark innovative learning, curiosity and creativity. An amazing application they have developed is Pachyderm, a multimedia authoring tool that allows curators and educators to publish rich media learning objects as easily as 1, 2, 3.

The Pachyderm project originated in the mind of Peter Samis, Associate Curator, Interpretation, SFMoMA. Peter and his team developed the Pachyderm web tools and methods to inspire curators to share their wealth of knowledge about understanding art. And rather than just do this for SFMoMA, Peter, NMC and IMLS have helped make Pachyderm freely available to any museum or educator who has an interest in sharing a story.

What is so wonderful about Pachyderm? It was designed by people who understand the needs, strengths and challenges of curators, artists, art educators and museum visitors. I think of Pachyderm as a digital muse who inspires curators and educators to ask thought provoking questions and tell stories while simultaneously stimulating the visitor to look deeper, explore the context and discover personal meaning and connections to art. In fact, I see Pachyderm as a tool to help turn visitors into part of the creative process, giving them the keys to unlock a new interpretation that has the potential to transform the work as well as themselves.

Want to see what I mean? Let me show you the door to four art adventures, I challenge you to explore one and let me know what you discover about art, the world and yourself.

Still hungry for more? Check out the Pachyderm Showcase. Who knew elephants could be so delicious?

It was my first time in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. The atrium was overflowing with an elegant cocktail party. I love when a museum is transformed into a vibrant gathering. Suddenly I turned and found myself at the edge of an empty room. Behind me was a party packed with people. In front of me was a large room with orange carpet and blank white walls. I took a sharp intake of breath, the empty room had hit me full force. “Art!” my creative side exclaimed. Then I shook my head and my logical side said, “Silly girl, it is just an empty room, not art. Don’t be ridiculous.” And I turned and walked away.

Later that evening, Matt (an artist and docent) was offering tours of the Rudolph Stingel exhibit. He began the tour by explaining that Stingel likes to stretch the concept of painting and the idea of art. Stingel refers to many of his works as paintings even when he uses no paint at all. A wall covered in carpet that I am invited to touch, a ‘canvas’ of pink insulation that looks like Stingel carved randomly with an ice cream scoop; a large self-portrait that I could have sworn was a photograph.

  • Paintings
  • Art
  • Ideas
  • Participation

From the moment Matt (the docent) said I could touch the white carpet on the wall, I was hooked. I pressed my hand deep into the thick pile, leaving my mark on that work, at least for a moment. The act of touching and changing the work opened my eyes and mind to Stingel’s message.

“This had all the intellectual qualities that I ask from a painting. It’s aggressive, it’s against the system, it’s against the usual way of doing a painting. Once in a while, it’s good to freshen up the air with these kind of things.”

Then Matt led us into the orange carpeted room. My inner voice shouted, “Art! I knew it!” Matt asked us to consider that not only were we walking on the canvas but we were also being painted by it. Indeed, we were all bathed in a warm orange glow.

As the tour continued, I lingered in the orange room. I sat on this canvas and reveled in its playfulness. I saw the color painting the white walls. I breathed in deeply, soaking in the simplicity and courage, allowing this moment to transform who I am and how I see the world.

Cross-posted to the Blanton Blog.

Postscript: Later, I laughed when I realized that only a girl from the University of Texas (where it seems everything is burnt orange) would ever look at an empty museum gallery with orange carpet and think it was just a room.

i’ve found a new way to explore art museums. with ipod in hand, i head to my favorite muse. my plan is to experience one work of art…deeply. i listen for the work of art that is calling my name as i wander freely through the galleries. i know when i’m in the right place…it is as though time has stopped.

today, it happens in front of Anselm Kiefer’s Sterenfall (Falling Stars). i take a deep breath and sit on the floor in front of the piece. i instinctively reach for my ipod and select the album “The Earth is Not a A Cold Dead Place” by Explosions in the Sky.

for this moment, there is nothing in this world but Sterenfall, me and the music. i am in awe of the vastness of this piece. i find beauty, peace and courage washing over me.

i always find what i need in this space. here, i am home.

have you ever felt this way? what works of art call you to come rest a while in their company?

Cross-posted to the Blanton Blog.

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.

There is an exciting article in the New York Times today on tagging, folksonomy and on line art collections. One Picture, 1,000 Tags.

What happens when you let the public tag art?

We would never say a work is mostly red, or instills a sense of ennui, or features a dog playing poker,” agreed Bruce Wyman, director of new technologies for the Denver Art Museum. “Tagging gives us a set of eyes we don’t have.”

“Our keywording was insufficient in a lot of ways,” said Effie Kapsalis, senior digital producer of the site. “There’s no taxonomic system that could cover the subjects of all these photographs. And we want a lot of tags for each image. So that’s why we turned to the public.”

“The results were staggering,” said Susan Chun, general manager for collections information planning at the Met. “There’s a huge semantic gap between museums and the public.”

I’m thrilled with the work that is happening around the steve.museum project. For example, explore the Powerhouse Museum’s online collection and see the ability to add keywords to any image.

Now I’m dreaming of how wonderful the world would be if we could have Google Art. I mean if Google can take on the concept of creating the digital library…why not do the same for the visual arts. Okay…so it is huge. But close your eyes and imagine if it were a reality. Imagine it was searchable, taggable, and helped you discover new artists you never knew about. Imagine if you could share your travel plans with GoogleArt and it could let you know about delicious small galleries you could visit on your next business trip. What if you could create an online digital collection and have it stream to your flatpanel TV screen…filling your living room with images of priceless art.

Does this cheapen art…or deepen your personal relationship with it? Does it make you never need to step foot in another museum…or does it make art and musuems so much a part of your everyday life that you find yourself drawn more and more to the physical galleries…because nothing, nothing is more powerful than standing in front of the original work of art?

(sigh)

Glenda and Rob. Photo taken by Rob Weychert

Sigh. Words cannot possibly describe the experience of SXSWi. It is true, this year’s event left me speechless (but smiling all the way to my heart). If you can’t imagine me at a loss for words, just ask Pixeldiva who saw me rendered speechless multiple times.

What is so magical about SX? Well…imagine…a place where there are no barriers to dreams, where ideas flow like a waterfall…drenching you with a creative fire so intense and pure that it feels like nirvana.

Moments of pure bliss for me this year include:

Delightful Discoveries

  • Meeting the wonderful Sue Clarke and taking a fieldtrip to Whole Foods with Money Lady and Malarkey.
  • Twitter and Dodgeball weren’t just noise. I experienced both of these tools connecting people. Filling in the spaces when physical distance can create barriers. Transforming an overwhelming large crowd into a network of friends.
  • Getting to meet the other Glenda!

Session Love

It would be impossible to tell you my favorite session…because everything was quite delicious. So…I’ll just mention a few that had me twittering “this is why I heart SXSW”:

  • Blogging Where Speech Isn’t Free – the work that global voices and Tor are doing to bring free speech via blogs to the people is momentous. I was inspired and humbled by the courage and resolve of these people.
  • Ajax Kung Fu Meets Accessibility Feng Shui – I was mesmerized by Neo Jeremy…he is indeed the Ajax Kung Fu Master. And Feather showed the way towards truly accessible Ajax. Heaven on earth.
  • WaSP Annual Meeting: Takin’ it to the Street – The WaSP is an amazing collection of passionate individuals who give their minds, hearts and souls to supporting efforts that help the web reach it’s full potential. Go WaSP!
  • The Influence of Art in Design – Yes…it is true. I was blown away by the other members of the panel. Even though we had met 5 times on skype and spent 2 hours together the day before playing in a museum…I still was moved and inspired by what my fellow panel members had to say. See our panel slides at theinfluenceofartindesign.com

IRL

What could possibly be the richest treasure of SX for me is turning virtual relationships into tangible ones. Spending quality time with Steph Troeth, Ralph Brandi and Kimberly Blessing (just to name a few) was priceless. The experience reminds me of how I describe art and technology. For me…the physical work of art is primary. Nothing is more sacred than the actual art object. When I add technology into the museum space my goal is to enhance your interaction with the object…but never to detract or get in your way. And indeed…I think of all my close friends as priceless works of art.

Best SXSW Ever

I echo what Craig Cook says about SXSWi2007. It was the best SXSW I’ve ever experienced. More meaningful connections. Deeper conversations. And over and over again I was struck by the fact that every person mattered. You would think that in the midst of this geek heaven…surrounded by thousands of brilliant minds…that you wouldn’t miss a friend or two who couldn’t be there this year. On the contrary…I personally felt a Hicks-sized hole in the event that not even FlatHicks could fill. And while we did our very best to virtually include everyone…it was good to know that no matter how amazing SX actual is…the event is truly about the people. So, to Hicks, Jessica, Kelly, John, Brothercake, Meri, Elly and everyone else who longed to be here…you were missed.

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