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Social Networking by and for the Blind: The Zone BBS

July 29, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Would you just like to get to know thousands of your blind brothers and sisters better? Would you like to participate in a social networking site that doesn’t lock you out with inaccessible CAPTCHA or isn’t otherwise difficult to access with your screen reader? Would you just like to play online games and have a great time? Check out The Zone BBS to get started with an account absolutely free of charge!

Categories: gaming

Audio Promos Now Available for the Yahoo! Accessibility Improvement Petition

July 29, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

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:

Once again, we thank Steve Bauer (The Jazz Man) for his hard work on these excellent promos!

The Subtle Differences Online Petitions Can Make in Accessibility Advocacy Issues

July 27, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

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: Slashdot Persists with "No Blind People Allowed" Sign While Ignoring Requests for Assistance!

July 26, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Slashdot, a recognize source of news for technology enthusiasts and professionals, is an example of a site that claims to provide a manual intervention path for their inaccessible CAPTCHA. The CAPTCHA is used to protect the account creation process and prevent comment spam. Visually impaired users are directed to send e-mail to to receive assistance.

Over two and a half days ago, I sent an e-mail to asking for help to create a Slashdot account. Since then, I have sent two more messages, all of which have gone completely unanswered. While Slashdot allows sighted users instant access to everything, blind users must wait and are not allowed to participate at all when Slashdot staff fail to respond to requests for assistance. Slashdot is yet another example of a web site where a manual process of providing access to CAPTCHA simply does not work. Only an automated reasonable accomodation, such as an audio or text CAPTCHA, is sufficient to guarantee equal participation for blind and visually impaired users and tear down the “No Blind People Allowed” sign.

In another interesting development, there have been at least three attempts to submit a story covering the Yahoo! Accessibility Improvement Petition, all of which have been ignored by Slashdot. Are the Slashdot folks afraid to cover this story, knowing that their own CAPTCHA is inadequate? Come on, Slashdot, do the right thing already! Tear down your “No Blind People Allowed” sign!

Visual Verification: FEMA’s Example Shows One Way to Do it Right for Everyone

July 24, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

The Federal Emergency Management Agency appears to have learned its lesson after Hurricane Katrina, where it did not permit blind and visually impaired citizens to complete online applications for assistance due to the inaccessibility of its visual verification scheme. The government agency has since done a 180 degree turn, providing a text based CAPTCHA that permits access to everyone, regardless of sensory disability. The FEMA eServices Application Suite represents a wonderful example of reasonably accomodating both the need to protect online resources and the need to permit access to those resources for all humans, regardless of disability.

Press Release: Yahoo! Asked to Reasonably Accomodate the Blind by Adding Audio CAPTCHA

July 24, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Yahoo! Asked to Reasonably Accomodate the Blind by Adding Audio CAPTCHA

An online petition is being circulated worldwide asking Yahoo! to implement an audio alternative to their graphical CAPTCHA (visual verification) process so that the blind and visually impaired will be afforded the same level of access enjoyed by the sighted. All Internet users are asked to sign this petition and support the concept that the blind and visually impaired should be reasonably accomodated with respect to multifactor authentication and visual verification systems.

Tempe, AZ July 24, 2007 — We at Blind Access Journal ask all blind and sighted Internet users to sign the Yahoo! Accessibility Improvement Petition at asking Yahoo! to make available an audio alternative to their CAPTCHA as a reasonable accomodation affording blind and visually impaired people the same access to the company’s resources as that currently granted the sighted. Right now, Yahoo!’s graphical visual verification prevents full independent access by the blind or visually impaired computer user to many of the company’s services. Pictures can’t be interpreted or automatically conveyed using Braille or speech access devices. 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. Tell Yahoo! you want them to provide an alternative way for blind users to verify their human status. If you close your eyes, don’t get caught by the CAPTCHA! Please visit and sign the Yahoo! Accessibility Improvement Petition today!

Visual Verification: AFB Video Demonstrating the CAPTCHA Lockout of the Blind on Facebook, Friendster and MySpace

July 23, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Thanks to a listener to Allison’s podcast, you can check out a YouTube video apparently from the American Foundation for the Blind that clearly demonstrates the way CAPTCHA without reasonable accomodation locks out the blind and visually impaired from participation in online social networks.

Visual Verification: A Great Idea Proposed by a Sighted Friend

July 22, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

My good friend Allison has discussed CAPTCHA accessibility on her latest podcast. Here’s what she has to say in her shownotes. Great idea! Of course, please, also sign the current petition asking Yahoo to make theirs accessible while you’re at it! Here’s what Allison has to say:

So I think the reason I instinctively take into account the needs of the blind and deaf community is because as an Apple user I’ve always been in the minority. I wonder if I’d be so attuned to the cause if I had grown up in a majority-Windows world? anyway, the reason I bring this up is I’d like your help with something. You know how you go to a website and in order to play they make you identify some weird configuration of letters and numbers in order to prove that you’re not a spammer? Those weird letter things are called CAPTCHAS. they are pretty darn effective at keeping out the bad guys, but it turns out they also keep out blind people. Imagine how lame it would be if half the time you tried to go somewhere on the web you ran up against a brick wall that kept you from getting in?

Some sites include a button that says something to the effect of “click here if you cannot read this CAPTCHA” and it allows the blind or visually impaired user to get a call back from a human to help them enter the site. Sounds like a perfect solution, right? well, not if you think about it – imagine trying to enter your own BANK, and you have to sit by the phone and wait for a call? That’s not accessibility, that’s a deterrent! And unfortunately, in reality they frequently don’t call back at all. So, there must be a better way.

It turns out that there ARE alternatives that allow blind people to come in the front door but still keep the bad guys out. It’s an audio version of the CAPTCHA, or audio CAPTCHAs. For some reason, many companies just don’t employ this technique and can actually be violating some federal laws on accessibility. Many people, like Darrell Shandrow of the Blind Access Journal are working to change minds, to increase knowledge so that companies ALWAYS include accessible options that are as good as those of us without disability enjoy.

I’d like to suggest that in our own way, we all help this cause in a REALLY simple and easy way. Each time you encounter a visual-only CAPTCHA, find the contact us link, and drop them a line saying, “hey, where’s the audio captcha? why would you want to limit your audience that way?” Imagine if all of us did that, maybe we could actually catch people’s attention. I like the idea of pointing towards their business – what’s in it for them – they’d have more customers if they included the blind too! Heck, there are 10 million blind people in the US alone – would you want to cut out 10 MILLION potential customers??? That would be mad! anyway, think about making this tiny little effort each time you run into a captcha – I don’t know about you, but I’m annoyed by them anyway so I wouldn’t mind annoying the people that put them there in the first place at the same time! You can use your own words of course but just drop them a line, let them know that we think this is unfair practices, and stupid business!

I would hope that we are already executing Allison’s idea every time we experience a CAPTCHA that locks us out but, sadly, I know most blind people are not. As members of the blind community, it is always our obligation to do our best to politely contact the developers of web sites to ask for a reasonable accomodation to their inaccessible CAPTCHA before resorting to more serious, public advocacy efforts. In many, but sadly not all cases, simply informing the web site operator of the issue, asking for its correction and providing examples of other audio CAPTCHA implementations can get the job done. All the same, when this approach does not work, we must not shy away from standing up for our human rights.

Visual Verification: Changing the Frame of Reference?

July 22, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Recently, I have been engaged in discussions with several close friends and colleagues concerning my ongoing comparison between the exclusion of the blind from online participation through visual only CAPTCHA and the historical issue of racial segregation in the United States. These friends tell me the comparison is too controversial, that it doesn’t really work (either as a vehicle to explain the harm done by the exclusion or as a means to persuade others to do the right thing) and some find it deeply offensive. Though I will continue to use the “No Blind People Allowed” sign as a description of the problem caused by these visual verification schemes, I will cease using the segregation analogy. It is still absolutely critical that a workable analogy be found that can be used as a frame of reference to explain the harm caused by inaccessible CAPTCHA and persuade those without a reasonable accomodation to change their attitude and simply do the right thing as soon as possible. I am thus opening the floor for your thoughts on an alternate frame of reference. Please post a comment to this article or feel free to e-mail with your frank, honest thoughts on anything we can do to move this issue along in a constructive way.