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Google: Stop Hurting Us!

April 22, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

We have recently learned that Google now requires visual verification during the process of creating a new blog on blogger.com. Despite our ongoing attempts to communicate with Google about the need for accessibility, no accessible alternative has been provided for this new instance of visual verification. Whereas a blind user was once able to create new blogs at blogger.com, Google has now locked us out! Google staff continuously tell us that they are working on the problem while simultaneously Google continues to implement more instances of inaccessible visual verification. Sadly, we are only able to derive one conclusion. Google doesn’t care! I think it is now safe for us to conclude that Google is engaging in deliberate, ongoing and unmitigated discrimination against blind Internet users through the use of visual verification tests (also known as captcha) as a means to deny our equal participation.

It has become quite clear that our constant correspondence with Google staff through the company’s customer facing e-mail addresses has been totally ineffective in stopping Google’s discriminatory behavior against the blind. It is time we find a way to take our insistance on equal accessibility to some kind of next level so as to strongly encourage Google to correct its contemptable corporate behavior toward the blind and others with disabilities! I’m open to ideas!

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4 opinions on “Google: Stop Hurting Us!

  1. I agree. Having a few people advocate is not enough. We need more individuals, as well as organizations, to become aware of this problem and to advocate for a solution. Toward that goal, I wrote an article outlining the problem at All About Access and then sent the text of that article to a couple of listservs, the head of AER, Jay Levanthal (Editor and Chief of AFB’s Journal AccessWorld), and Rosemary Kleske (permission for an off topic post, plus hoping that Freedom Scientific will help advocate). I know there are more places to send it, but I don’t want to become guilty of spamming — the very problem captchas seek to stop. (smile)

    So there’s my idea. I’m open to other ideas as well.

  2. I had another idea: Bring the issue to the mainstream blogosphere. I just sent an email to the editor at blogherald.com. There have also been quite a few articles written about My Search History. If there is a way to contact those authors….

  3. Idea #3: If Google won’t listen to us, maybe they will listen to Manuel Blum, the Bruce Nelson Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, and one of the principal investigators at the CAPTCHA Project. From what I’ve read, he is aware of the access issues posed by CAPTCHA and he certainly carries far more weight than we do. Here is the message I sent to him (stay tuned!):

    Subject: Perhaps Google will listen to you about CAPTCHA

    Dear Professor Blum:

    As the subject of my email suggests, I am writing to request that you contact Google regarding their implementation of CAPTCHA, which does not include the use of alternative access for users who are blind. As you know, a purely visual CAPTCHA is a denial of access not only for non-humans, but for blind users. I, and several others, have been writing Google about this issue, requesting that an alternative form of access be included. While the “Google Team” did respond, indicating that they are aware of this problem, they not only have failed to provide alternative access to the existing CAPTCHA required of users seeking a Google account, they have since added a purely visual CAPTCHA that must be passed by potential bloggers. Ironically, when announcing this change at buzz.blogger.com, they linked “captcha” to the entry at Wikipedia — an entry that contains an entire section on accessibility.

    Given Google’s inattention to the requests from the blindness community for equal access, and to the very document they link to, I am requesting that you contact them. I realize that you are very busy, and would not be bothering you if I thought there was any other (reasonable) way to get Google to eliminate this barrier.

    Thank you very much in advance for your time and your help!

  4. Here is the email exchange I had with Google’s Blogger team. You can see that I was mostly polite and made a concrete suggestion for a textual substitute for CAPTCHA.

    From me to Blogger:

    When a user creates a new blog, page http://www.blogger.com/create-blog.g requires typing in distorted text contained in an image. This is called CAPTCHA.

    CAPTCHA is not fair to blind and visually impaired users because they cannot see and/or recognize the distorted text. This is a well-known problem with many Web services and is frequently addressed by providing an alternate method such as using constructed audio files to speak the letters and/or numbers in the text. Another alternate method would be to provide a simple question having little cultural bias (such as, “what is 2+4?”, “when it rains, the ground gets: dry, wet, or white?”, or “type only the letters in the following: rxf47yrn3mf4”) that the user must answer. To make this unguessable by robots, the question is automatically changed daily (or as needed) from a prewritten secret file of questions/answers.

    The link to an alternate method should be clear to see, so partially-sighted users can see it.

    Blogger.com could make its service more accessible to users with sensory deficits by eliminating CAPTCHA or by providing an alternate human-detection method as described above.

    From Blogger to me:

    Thanks for writing in regarding this issue. We appreciate your feedback and will certainly take it into account as we work to optimize the blog creation process. In the meantime, we can create a blog on your account for you, if you like. Just tell us your username and the address you would like to use for your blog (e.g. some-name-here.blogspot.com) and we will create it for you, subject to availability.

    Please be assured that the word verification only appears during blog creation. Thus, it won’t be necessary to use this feature more than once. Thanks for your patience, and I apologize for any inconvenience.

    From me to Blogger:

    Thank you for your courteous and quick reply.

    I am sighted, so I don’t need to take you up on your kind offer to create a blog for me.

    However, there is something important that Blogger and Pyra Labs need to realize concerning the use of CAPTCHA: it does not matter that CAPTCHA challenge/response is used only once, during blog creation. It is still unacceptable.

    Imagine that you lose your ability to see clearly someday in the future, perhaps as a part of the process of getting older. Will you find it acceptable to be told to make special arrangements for doing things that others can do independently? Or will you feel like you are being denied your rights?

    Blind and visually impaired people deserve full access to the Web; they are not second-class citizens who can be told to contact a support group (or find a full-sighted person) in order to register to use a Web service. This is a violation of their civil rights and indeed will probably be illegal someday.

    I hope you will give serious consideration to my constructive suggestion (detailed below) to remove CAPTCHA or at least provide audible and/or textual substitutes.

    Please pass my suggestion on to your Management. A canned “we appreciate your feedback” response is not sufficient.

    From Blogger to me:

    Your feedback has already been passed on to management, along with the rest of the feedback we’ve been receiving from other users. I can assure you that this issue is very much under discussion here, though we will not be able to respond in detail to every message about it, and I cannot currently comment on what changes might develop. Thank you for your concern and for your comments, though.

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