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.
Archive for the ‘Yahoo’ Category
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.
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.
Visual Verification: CAPTCHA Accessibility and the Yahoo! Petition Discussed in Depth on Security Now PodcastWednesday, August 1st, 2007
We thank Leo Laporte and Steve Gibson for reading an e-mail I sent them concerning the need for CAPTCHA accessibility on episode 102 of their Security Now! podcast and discussing it in depth. This show even has an excellent transcript that serves to meet the needs of the deaf or those who would just rather read instead of listen. This is exactly the kind of positive exposure we need to seek for the CAPTCHA accessibility issue on a much more frequent basis. Let’s all sign the Yahoo! Accessibility Improvement Petition and take all possible actions to spread the word as far and wide as possible!
Thanks to Steve Bauer of ACB Radio fame, the following audio promos for the Yahoo! Accessibility Improvement Petition are now available for podcasts, streaming Internet broadcasts and all other audio programs where running public service announcements may be appropriate:
- Yahoo! Petition Promo 1 (dry voice track, no background music)
- Yahoo! Petition 2 (fast, dance music background)
- Yahoo! Petition Promo 3 (slower, dramatic music background)
- Yahoo! Petition Promo 4 (dramatic, drum beat music background)
- Yahoo! Petition Promo 5 (fast, dramatic, drum beat music background)
Once again, we thank Steve Bauer (The Jazz Man) for his hard work on these excellent promos!
As I continue to promote the Yahoo! Accessibility Improvement Petition initiative, I receive occasional private and public comments from those who wonder whether these online petitions really can make a difference or just represent a waste of everyone’s time. Of course, I feel they can serve to effectively support taking positive action on the accessibility issue in question, even when the differences made are subtle.
It has been my experience that the following positive things happen when an online petition is initiated and widely disseminated:
- The petition acts as a single rallying point within the blind community around which debate and discussion takes place.
- It is easier to convince blind and sighted people to show their support for the needed accessibility accomodation by signing a simple petition than it is to ask them to take more complex actions such as those involved in traditional letter writing campaigns.
- Individuals, organizations and even the media will, sometimes, take their own initiative, asking questions of the company being petitioned.
- The costs for organizing, promoting and bringing an online petition to its ultimate conclusion are quite low, even fitting within the budget of one blind couple not receiving any other means of financial support for such activities.
- People who sign the petition often add comments, which can also serve as testimonial evidence explaining the reasons why the requested action is needed. Many signers of the Yahoo! Accessibility Improvement Petition, for instance, are telling the world that the company’s representatives usually do not answer requests from blind and visually impaired people for assistance with the features protected by the visual CAPTCHA.
Are online petitions the right path to the promised land of resolving all accessibility issues? I’m absolutely sure they are not! Instead, they can represent a good first step in the process. The Google Word Verification Accessibility Petition garnered almost 5,000 signatures. Did it make a difference? Did the decision-makers at Google consider 4,725 signers sufficient representation of support to warrant creating the audio word verification scheme that now permits most blind and visually impaired people admission to all Google services? We just do not have these answers. Some tell me the petition made a difference, while others tell me it did not. The petition did evoke discussion of the CAPTCHA issue inside and outside the blind community, thousands of blind and sighted people indicated their support by signing and the concerns of the blind regarding the harm caused by the lock out imposed by visual CAPTCHA were raised effectively and repeatedly in the sighted world. The point is, we did something. We asked Google to make their visual verification more accessible to the blind, and it happened! The petition was open for only four months when Google roled out its audio CAPTCHA. The point isn’t the number of signatures on the petition or, even, whether the petition made the ultimate difference. It may have worked together with a couple of other efforts at contacting Google executives concerning the issue. In any case, we won our right to access Google, educated the public about the pitfalls of visual only CAPTCHA and may have ultimately helped to increase the availability of accessible web sites as well as commercial and free tools including audio or text based CAPTCHA for use by developers! Whether direct or indirect, isn’t that a great accomplishment for a grassroots advocacy effort?
It is time for all of us to get the job done once again! Right now, the Yahoo Accessibility Improvement Petition has 609 signatures. Reliable sources tell me that decision-makers at Yahoo! are already aware of the existence of this petition, and that implementation of an audio CAPTCHA is now being considered. The question is apparently one of priorities. The company’s unworkable scheme has been in existance for five years now. Let’s not allow this lock out to continue for another five years or longer! Yahoo! is watching us! Let’s all sign this petition right away, get our family and friends to do likewise and publicize this initiative as effectively as possible! Please feel free to contact me with any questions regarding this critical accessibility evangelism campaign.
Visual Verification: New BlindWebAccess.com Domain Promotes Yahoo CAPTCHA Accessibility Online PetitionThursday, July 19th, 2007
The domain BlindWebAccess.com has now been pointed to the online petition asking Yahoo! to make its CAPTCHA accessible to the blind and visually impaired. Please promote BlindWebAccess.com as an easy way to read and sign this important online petition.
We ask all of you to review and sign the Yahoo’s Accessibility Improvement petition asking the company to make an audio alternative to its CAPTCHA available so that the blind and visually impaired will be permitted timely access to the same services as those already granted the sighted. The use of a telephone callback scheme is totally insufficient as it does not grant the same level of instant access as the sighted and Yahoo personnel
do not consistently make contact in a timely manner. It is our ongoing contention that visual only CAPTCHA schemes without at least an accessible audio alternative represent “No Blind People Allowed” signs in much the same way as African-Americans were deliberately denied entry to restaurants and other similar public accomodations in the era of segregation. We ask Yahoo to simply fix their grievous error by promptly adding an audio CAPTCHA to all its properties as soon as possible as part of the company’s ongoing accessibility initiatives.