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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.

6 opinions on “Visual Verification: A Great Idea Proposed by a Sighted Friend

  1. hello, this is Ming.
    actually I think many website should has audio capture if they have something to sign up, such as e-mail hosting server.
    and it has many many things need to improve. such as using internet banking or ATM.
    many country or city such as Hong Kong. its bank service are not quite accessable for blindness to you such as the ATM service or the internet bank.
    So I think we really want to do something to let us live independtently.
    I think the Partition is the begining to speak out what Blindness need!

  2. And what do we do about the “no deaf-blind people allowed” sign that the audio solution puts up?

  3. At this time, audio CAPTCHA is the currently available solution. I have said many times, and will say it again, that, ultimately, additional research and development must be done to provide a non-censory verification experience that excludes noone while providing the same protection currently afforded by visual CAPTCHA. So, what I am insisting on is “reasonable” accomodation. Right now, audio CAPTCHA represents what is “reasonable” while other much better solutions may become “reasonable” in the future. All I have ever stated is that “nothing” is never “reasonable”!

  4. What’s reasonable to one isn’t necessarily reasonable to another. The audio solution may be reasonable to you, but is totally unreasonable to a deaf-blind person. The phone back solution may be reasonable to Yahoo but is totaly unreasonable to you. You and Yahoo are basically saying the same thing, it seems: a solution that satisfies me is reasonable. Yahoo is satisfied, it would seem, with a solution that to you is still a barrier. You are satisfied, it seems, with a solution which to a deaf-blind individual is still a barrier.

  5. Yahoo!’s solution amounts to nothing, since Yahoo! personnel almost never call blind users. Though I’m sure Yahoo! feels that doing nothing to help us is “reasonable” to their bottom line, we know it is ethically and morally improper, and does not amount to any sort of “reasonable accomodation” according to any currently known laws or generally recognized standards of conduct toward the human rights of people with disabilities.

    Audio CAPTCHA is a “reasonable accomodation” that can be made at a cost that can be easily argued does not represent an “undue burden” to any business web site. There are audio CAPTCHA solutions all over the place now. Solutions that do not require audio or visual output are not yet clearly defined or implemented on anything approaching a wide scale. They continue to represent areas in need of further research and development.

    I am not deaf-blind, and have not received anything from the deaf-blind portion of the community concerning this issue. The deaf-blind are currently excluded, as you so aptly point out, from both audio and visual CAPTCHA. I have and will continue to advocate, ultimately, for solutions that do not require any particular sensory modality. In that way, I feel my approach to the problem has been more than reasonable for all sides. Let’s work toward a low cost audio CAPTCHA solution for all web sites right now, while moving in the direction of better solutions that do not exclude anyone based on factors beyond their control.

  6. I have asked and I hope to see some changes in formshield found at my site to support deaf blind users. This is still a work in progress.

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