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.
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.
Recently, the folks over on the PayPal Blog have been writing about all the changes being made to their logos and signs. Alas, there’s one signage change the eBay / PayPal folks seem to be resisting! That change involves removal of the “No Blind People Allowed” signs imposed by their continued inaccessible CAPTCHAs and, sometime in the not-too-distant future, their Security Key! Let’s all continue to flood PayPal’s customer service people regarding this issue of vital importance.
The reCAPTCHA folks have been hard at work over this Labor Day weekend chasing down the issues with their audio CAPTCHA implementations in secured forms with Internet Explorer 7.0. Please retest the Twitter audio CAPTCHA and submit your feedback as soon as possible. Let’s also be sure to show our appreciation to the reCAPTCHA team for going far above and beyond the call of duty to resolve this critical issue over a holiday weekend!
Bob, a participant on the grc.securitynow newsgroup, has devised another good example of a simple text based challenge response system that could permit a reasonable level of protection for many blogs and other web sites. Please check out his contact form and use it to provide feedback.