The developer of the GoldWave audio editing software has expressed an interest in learning how blind and visually impaired people use the software and taking feedback regarding ways in which it may be made more accessible in future releases. All blind and visually impaired GoldWave customers are encouraged to contact Chris, the developer of this popular application in the blind community, with constructive feedback. Given the numerous issues with Sound Forge 9.0, and the apparent lack of communications between Sony and its customers on accessibility and many other concerns, I may consider switching to GoldWave. All thoughts on this are welcome.
We continue to be locked out of full and equal participation by Six Apart, developers of the TypePad blogging platform, due to an inaccessible CAPTCHA used for account creation and posting comments to blogs. In the past, numerous attempts to contact the company have gone ignored. Now that it has come to our attention that various members of the disability community use TypePad as their blogging platform, despite its inaccessible CAPTCHA, it would seem to be time for another attempt at getting this issue properly addressed by Six Apart. All blind and visually impaired Internet users, along with those sighted people who care about what happens to us, are urged to use the Contact Us page on the Six Apart web site to ask the company to finally do the right thing by making their CAPTCHA accessible. I have already contacted Jane Anderson, Six Apart’s Media Contact, asking for her assistance in resolving this issue or devising a plan for doing so in preparation for another article in the works concerning TypePad bloggers in the disability community. It has been proven over and over again that, if we keep on publicly and privately discussing this issue of the inaccessible CAPTCHA lockout, it often does eventually get resolved. Let’s all keep the lights shining clearly on this challenge as we move toward more positive results.
Thanks to Mike Smith of the Mike Tech Show podcast for discussing and urging his listeners to sign the Yahoo! Accessibility Improvement Petition asking the company to make their CAPTCHA accessible to the blind and visually impaired. Let’s all continue our efforts to reach out on this and all other critical technology access issues.
It would seem that our accessibility concerns with the registration process, and possibly other areas, at Del.icio.us are now being taken more seriously subsequent to my public posting of accessibility related issues on the Yahoo! property’s development mailing list.
Nick Nguyen, Del.icio.us Product Manager, indicates that the following steps will be taken to improve accessibility:
- While an audio CAPTCHA is under development, a direct link to the support team will be provided on the registration page. This has already been accomplished.
- The del.icio.us team, in conjunction with the company’s in-house accessibility people, will work to ensure not only better access to the registration process, but also improved accessibility of the browser extensions, plugins and the web site.
- Blind and visually impaired people will be invited to participate in the beta process for the new web site. Send an e-mail directly to Nick Nguyen at nick (at) yahoo-inc dot com to get involved.
We thank Nick Nguyen and Bjoern Fritzsche at Yahoo! for their consideration of our accessibility concerns and their serious, thoughtful responses.
As all of us know, the folks at Yahoo! do not permit blind people to independently sign up for the company’s services. Instead, a link to a form was provided, whereby a representative would, presumably, manually assist a blind person with the registration process. While some people received this help once in awhile, it was largely ineffective, tantamount to providing no assistance at all. It seems, unfortunately, that there has been a step made in the wrong direction. Yahoo!’s registration page no longer includes the special form made available for the purpose of accomodating us. We also note that the registration page for del.icio.us also continues not to allow us to sign up solely based on our physical lack of eye sight.
Now, more than ever, it is absolutely critical that we motivate as many Internet users as possible to sign the Yahoo! Accessibility Improvement Petition urging the company’s web development team to promptly implement a CAPTCHA solution that reasonably accomodates blind and visually impaired humans.
Last night, I began listening to J.C. Hutchins’ 7th Son podcast novel. Though not perfect, the Apple hosted web platform on which the site is hosted is mostly accessible enough to allow participation by blind listeners. Right now, however, there is one unfortunate exception. Features such as the ability to post comments are protected by a visual CAPTCHA that does not deliver a reasonable accomodation that would afford blind and visually impaired people the ability to participate.
In Need a hand, re: CAPTCHA compliance, J.C. Hutchins promises to contact Apple concerning this issue. I will be quite interested to know their response, if any, on this matter. I also thank J.C. for his prompt willingness to take this bull by the horns and work toward a resolution. Of course, the podcast is a great listen! It is full of clones, conspiracies, memory duplication and other similar themes I enjoy reading about in science fiction novels.
All Blind Access Journal readers are cordially invited and encouraged to join our brand new mailing list! We will, of course, discuss issues related to all things accessibility, including the following topic areas:
- Approaches to accessibility advocacy and their effectiveness.
- Coordination of Blind Access Journal and other advocacy initiatives.
- Collect and report accessibility issues in need of evangelism.
- Constructively work with all companies and individuals who are doing the right thing with respect to accessibility!
This new mailing list is not intended as a resource for technical support. There are many other excellent blindness related lists for that purpose.
If you would like to subscribe to the blind-access mailing list, please send a blank message to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word subscribe in the subject field. Please feel free to visit the blind-access list home page to view archives or modify your participation in the group. Your active participation is both appreciated and encouraged.
I think we all recognize that, in many cases, there simply is not a strong bottom-line business reason for companies (either assistive technology or mainstream) to work hard on making sure their technologies function in ways that are in the best interests of all users, including those of us whom happen to be blind. There are, thus, only two major levers available to us in our advocacy efforts. The first involves the fact that, in our society, accessibility is simply the right thing to do. This approach involves the “heart” of accessibility evangelism. The second approach involves making a business case for accessibility based on the application or presumed applicability of one or more disability rights laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act or Section 508 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act. In this rather rough approach, accessibility is ultimately forced as an alternative that is less expensive than continuing to ignore our needs.
In the case of screen readers, the economic incentive is simply to ensure the product works with Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office and the Windows operating system. Any additional capabilities, especially with respect to custom job related applications like Salesforce.com and Siebel, is viewed as icing on the cake. Precious little effort is expended on the part of assistive technology companies to ensure the usability of many customer relationship management (CRM) and other similarly critical application infrastructures required in today’s workplaces. How many jobs do you know about where use of e-mail, spreadsheets, web browsing and word processing are all that’s required in order for a qualified employee to conduct the duties of the position?
Most mainstream technology companies claim there’s little or no real business incentive to make their products and services accessible to us. After all, blind people represent less than a percent of the world’s population and there’s just not enough money in it for companies to justify the expense. Only the possibility of legal action or the presumed applicability of some Federal laws make the expense of accessibility less than the potential loss of business from government agencies.
As we all can see, the current state of affairs remains bleak. It has been this way for a long time now, yet the problem may accelerate due to the ever-widening gap between the capabilities of increasingly sophisticated and visually oriented mainstream technologies with respect to the rather limited nature of current screen reading technology for the blind. My apologies if this offends, but it is, ultimately, the truth against which I would invite any credible challenge.
As we continue to advocate for mainstream technology companies to reasonably accomodate our needs for equal access to the technologies in our daily lives, on the job and in the classroom, we must also simultaneously advocate for our assistive technology companies to focus on innovation, rolling out screen readers that can meet the challenge of the current and future world of technology, much of which continues to be developed by people who have absolutely no inclination toward accomodating us. It is wonderful when assistive technology and the mainstream computer industry can work together, meeting one another halfway in order to provide access, but the days of screen reader developers relying on this approach have been numbered for quite sometime in all but a precious few cases.
As we insist on innovation which will permit us to continue learning and making a living, we are going to have to devise new methods of accessibility advocacy. Our approaches must convince the decision-makers in the technology industry that at least one of the following statements is true:
- Conscience dictates that delivering accessibility is simply the “right thing” to do.
- The presence or absence of accessible technology often makes the difference between whether or not a blind person is able to fill a particular position in a company or take advantage of an educational opportunity.
- It is better to help blind people than it is to hurt, ignore or otherwise leave us out in the cold.
- Accessibility is a good thing to do from a media or public relations perspective.
- Accessibility can represent an “interesting” project to undertake from a development point of view.
- A small increase in the customer base will result when products and services are made accessible to blind computer users.
- Blind customers of companies who take the effort and time to address our needs tend to be among the most loyal portion of the company’s overall customer base.
- Sighted people who care about what happens to their blind colleagues, friends and relatives may prefer doing business with companies who do the “right thing” with respect to accessibility.
- Religion may indirectly dictate that blind people should be afforded equal access to information.
- The laws in several nations of the world directly or indirectly mandate a certain level of accessibility for people with disabilities.
It is important to note that only four of the items (customer loyalty, increased customer numbers, laws and public relations) on this “accessibility evangelism top ten” list can be said to relate directly to business considerations. The rest relate to the heart. What does a person believe to be the “right thing” to do with respect to their emotional make up as well as their logical mind? Should we devise ways to shame those who would ignore us into doing the right thing? Would a person ignore the needs of their spouse, relative, close friend or colleague should they become blind? How would such a person want to see their blind spouse treated? Wouldn’t they insist on reasonable accomodations? Should we place a bit more emphasis on the “heart” of accessibility evangelism? Your thoughts are welcome as always in the form of a comment to this article.
The following letter was composed and sent to Dr. Marc Maurer, President, National Federation of the Blind, on July 28, 2007. It has been five weeks now. We continue to await a response from the organization concerning their official position and willingness to dedicate additional resources to these critical accessibility concerns.
July 28, 2007
Dear Dr. Maurer:
My name is Darrell Shandrow. You and I met a number of times at NFB national conventions and the National Center for the Blind. I am an online accessibility evangelist, operating a blog known as Blind Access Journal. It can be found at http://www.blindaccessjournal.com. My purpose for writing this letter is to ask you to direct some of the resources of the National Federation of the Blind toward effectively advocating equal accessibility of CAPTCHA (visual verification) and other multifactor authentication systems for the blind and visually impaired.
In CAPTCHA and some hardware based multifactor authentication schemes, a string of distorted characters is presented visually, and entry of those characters into an edit field is required in order to be granted access to a protected system. The purpose of CAPTCHA is to differentiate between a script or other automated computer program designed to abuse a resource and a real human being who desires legitimate access. Visual multifactor authentication schemes provide a second level of security beyond the traditional username and password. Pictures can’t be interpreted or automatically conveyed using Braille or speech access devices and many hardware security keys still do not provide any alternative output mechanisms. Until an accessible alternative is made available, people with vision loss can’t see the code to be entered into the box to be granted admission.
There now exists a number of techniques to reasonably accomodate CAPTCHA and multifactor authentication for the blind and visually impaired. The most commonly implemented accomodation is an audio CAPTCHA, where the characters in the image are audibly played back to the blind or visually impaired user for correct entry into the edit box. America Online, Microsoft and PRWeb are examples of companies offering this form of accomodation.
Another form of accomodation is a text based CAPTCHA. In such a scheme, a user is asked to solve a simple logic or math problem or answer a basic question in order to be granted admission. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is an example of an agency that uses such a text based solution. Some technology experts say this solution is relatively easily cracked by computer programs, so it probably will not be widely implemented in its current form.
A third form of accomodation involves the need for manual human intervention on the part of the company requiring the CAPTCHA. In such a scheme, the resource is protected with a visual CAPTCHA along with a link to click, an e-mail address to write a message or a telephone number to call. The blind person clicks the link, writes the e-mail or calls the telephone number to receive assistance. Unfortunately, this approach is fraught with serious challenges that make it completely unworkable in most cases where it is in use. When a blind user fills out the form, writes the e-mail or calls the number, it is absolutely necessary that the request for help be fulfilled immediately in order for the solution to provide a level of access equal to that enjoyed by his or her sighted peers. In almost all cases, such requests for assistance either go completely unanswered or are answered in an inappropriate time frame, perhaps days after the request is made. Another serious problem is the actions taken once the requests are answered. Are there specific processes in place for effectively delivering these reasonable accomodations? Are all employees who may be taking the calls properly trained to follow the procedures? It has been proven to us over and over that the unfortunate answer to both questions is a resounding “no”. Though some companies are willing to offer these manual interventions as reasonable accomodations, it is clear that, in all cases we have experienced, they do not take seriously the promise to actually deliver the goods. Examples of web sites supposedly offering the human intervention method of accomodation include GoDaddy.com, Slashdot.org, ticketmaster.com and Yahoo.com.
Unfortunately, there still exist many web sites that do not offer any reasonable accomodations to their visual CAPTCHA at all. Examples of sites in this camp include activate.sirius.com, friendster.com and myspace.com. When a blind person does manage to find someone at these companies to contact, assistance is rarely, if ever, offered.
At a bare minimum, visual only CAPTCHA locks blind people out of equal participation in web sites such as information portals and social networking resources. More seriously, visual CAPTCHA without reasonable accomodation actually prevents blind people from completing business transactions, as in the CAPTCHAs on godaddy.com and ticketmaster.com. Finally, visual only multifactor authentication schemes, such as security keys, can prevent blind people from accessing their money or even obtaining or retaining employment!
I am writing to ask that you direct the National Federation of the Blind, as the largest consumer organization of the blind in the United States, to show clear leadership in advocacy for access to CAPTCHA and multifactor authentication. In the short term, please officially support the Yahoo! Accessibility Improvement Petition at http://blindwebaccess.com and make higher level efforts to contact Yahoo! executives to discuss the need for a better CAPTCHA solution on Yahoo! web sites. In the longer term, please consistently support existing grassroots advocacy efforts in this area and carry out new efforts on an organizational level to exercise influence and, possibly, legislation to address these serious concerns.
Darrell Shandrow – Accessibility Evangelist
We thank the American Council of the Blind for joining us in support of the Yahoo! Accessibility Improvement Petition along with the organization’s willingness to consider taking on additional future efforts surrounding accessibility issues involving CAPTCHA and multifactor authentication. A cross-organizational approach to this and other critical access needs would serve to further these vital causes.