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FeedBlitz Adds Audio CAPTCHA, Tears Down "No Blind People Allowed" Sign

September 25, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In a Sept. 24 post on the company’s news blog, the self-proclaimed “Email Marketing Service for Blogs, Social Media and RSS” announced it has added an audio CAPTCHA. This facility delivers an audio alternative to the distorted text sighted users are asked to enter during registration or subscription, permitting access for blind and visually impaired users to the same resources available to the sighted.

“FeedBlitz has added an audio version of the visual CAPTCHA (which has also been slightly updated) used on all FeedBlitz subscription forms,” according to the statement.

The new audio verification system can be heard on the company’s registration page. A clear voice is used to announce the letters and numbers to be entered. No background distortion is heard. Audio playback is delivered in the form of a standard MP3 file that can be opened and played according to the user’s needs and preferences.

FeedBurner, a Google property competing with FeedBlitz in the RSS space, continues to lack audio playback functionality, thus barring access to blind people.

Newegg Adds Audio CAPTCHA, Demonstrates Ongoing Accessibility Commitment

July 7, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Newegg announced Tuesday that it has implemented audio CAPTCHA on its login page as part of its ongoing commitment to accessibility. The audio playback features an easy-to-understand foreground voice reciting the alphanumeric code to be entered with a background sporting an outdoor sound scheme.

“We at Newegg want to make our website accessible for everyone, including our visually challenged visitors. To demonstrate our commitment, just recently Newegg was awarded the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Nonvisual Accessibility Web Certification for implementing Deque System’s Worldspace product,” said an unnamed Newegg representative. “Newegg voluntarily implemented the CAPTCHA on our website. We always appreciate suggestions that make our site more user-friendly and since becoming aware of your comments we have installed the audio CAPTCHA for your use.”

Blind customers appreciate this positive move. “The NewEgg audio CAPTCHA works great, simple, fairly straight forward, and not a million characters to remember!” said Tina Ektermanis, a blind college student who experienced difficulties making a purchase on the site in June.

D-Link Soon to Include Audio CAPTCHA and Implement Accessible Default Login on Routers

June 26, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

D-Link will soon provide audio CAPTCHA and change the login default on its routers to make them more accessible to customers with disabilities.

In a May 12 press release, D-Link announced that it was the first company to add CAPTCHA to its routers as a means of protecting users against new threats. These potential security breaches are serious. “A series of recent Internet security attacks on home and small office computers are compromising networks where users least expect it – their routers. These malicious software invasions, in which users unknowingly download a Trojan horse when performing common tasks, invade the router to detect wireless capabilities, then alter the victim’s domain name system (DNS) records so that all future traffic is diverted through the attackers’ network first”, states the press release.

“We’re excited to be the first in the market to announce we have taken the initiative to implement CAPTCHA into our routers, thus providing yet another layer of security to our customers,” said AJ Wang, chief technology officer of D-Link.

The press release goes on to explain “the term CAPTCHA is an acronym for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. CAPTCHA is a type of challenge-response test used in computing to ensure that responses are generated by humans, not computers. A common type of CAPTCHA requires the user to type letters or numbers from a distorted image that appears on the screen.”

Concerned that blind and visually impaired customers may be unable to access the company’s routers, accessibility advocates quickly reacted. “We did hear from our customer base that there was some concern on the CAPTCHA implementation,” said Dan Kelley, D-Link’s senior director of marketing.

Kelley said a beta version of the firmware is now available that disables the CAPTCHA by default. It will be officially released as an update to all customers once it has undergone the necessary testing. Users will be able to access the router without the CAPTCHA requirement after unboxing. They may explicitly enable the security enhancement through the web user interface as part of the setup process.

“We’re also going to be creating an audio version of the CAPTCHA which will be available in as soon as three to six weeks,” Kelley said. “You can press the button and it will read off the letters that you need to enter rather than having you read them off the screen.”

Effective accessibility evangelism may have helped D-Link executives understand the need for these changes. “In my discussions, I do remember that the audio version was already being planned but now I think that everything’s being a little bit more expedited realizing that there’s been some concern in terms of the feedback of the market,” said Kelley. “We have heard from a couple of customers who need this and we have been able to take care of them promptly.”

Companies like D-Link closely monitor their customer base and the overall technology marketplace for trends, including those pointing to greater accessibility. “We’re going to be paying close attention to what others in the industry are doing in terms of making improvements to CAPTCHA,” Kelley said. “We are always paying attention to customers whether through direct e-mail, on Facebook or on blogs.”

In keeping with its “Building Networks for People” tagline, D-Link is willing to consider additional accessibility enhancements in response to customer feedback. “If there’s anything that would help us figure out a way to make an improvement we’d be glad to hear it.” said Joe Melfi, D-Link’s associate director of business solutions.

GoPetition Rolls Out Audio CAPTCHA, Offers Blind Users Two Ways to Participate

June 26, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

The managing director of the popular online petition site GoPetition announced Friday that an audio CAPTCHA has been put in place for blind and visually impaired users. Verified membership allows everyone full participation without CAPTCHA anywhere on the site.

GoPetition’s declaration “Anyone or any group can use GoPetition to have their voice heard” now fully applies to blind and visually impaired people who may wish to create petitions, sign petitions or participate in the site’s online discussion forums. 

“GoPetition has now fully upgraded its signature process to allow blind people access to audio files for our security codes,” said John Pope, GoPetition’s managing director. “You may also be confident to start a petition at GoPetition if you wish as we are now user friendly for visually impaired people.”

Those wishing to completely avoid CAPTCHA and deaf-blind users may register for full access to all of the site’s services. The process requires e-mail address confirmation. According to a statement on the site: “as a verified member you will not have to navigate through complex codes or captchas, nor will you be subjected to confusing audio instructions.”

Newegg Rolls Out Login Page Featuring Inaccessible CAPTCHA, Locks Out Blind and Visually Impaired Customers

June 23, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Responding to a report from a blind Newegg customer, an inaccessible CAPTCHA was discovered Tuesday in the company’s login process for all customers.

“Wow, well, until I can get a hold of someone at NewEgg, guess I’m not going to be able to buy stuff there.  They now have a CAPTCHA in order to log in to one’s account!!!!!” said Tina Ektermanis, a blind college student in Colorado who wanted to order two SD memory cards. “It’s interesting that if you submit without filling in the code, it takes you to the old page, without the captcha, but we need to let them know about this before they put it in place for everything requiring a log in.”

A statement on the company’s login page claims “If you are visually impaired and are having difficulty navigating this site, please call our Customer Support line via our toll free number (800) 390-1119.”

Ektermanis said a friend of hers tried to order products from the company shortly before Christmas 2008 but the request was declined despite the stated promise of assistance.

Mia, a customer service representative, confirmed this lack of assistance during an investigative telephone call to the stated number. “I apologize, but we are not able to take orders by phone,” she said after the unusable validation code was explained.

“Our customer service representatives are supposed to help. This help covers everything, including placing orders and processing returns,” said Vincent Agular, Contact Division Manager in Newegg’s customer service department. He said he is requesting follow up from the company’s web team in light of the availability of numerous alternatives that provide both security and reasonable accommodations.

All blind and visually impaired Newegg customers and potential customers, and those who care about us, are asked to submit feedback to the company’s webmasters asking that they make an accessible alternative to their visual CAPTCHA available right away so as to allow everyone to transact business on terms of equality.

Twitter Quietly Fixes Broken Audio CAPTCHA

June 6, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

A blind Internet user has reported that Twitter has corrected issues with its audio CAPTCHA during a one-hour Friday evening maintenance window. Blind Access Journal has confirmed the fix.

On August 22, 2007, Twitter implemented the ReCAPTCHA service to protect the site from abuse while granting a level of accessibility to blind and visually impaired people wishing to sign up for the new social networking service. The enhancement was implemented by Twitter in cooperation with members of the connected online blind community. Twitter received praise for this move.

On December 7, 2008, reCAPTCHA began deploying a new audio playback scheme. “Instead of using spoken digits or letters, our new audio CAPTCHA presents entire spoken sentences or phrases that the best speech recognition algorithms failed to recognize,” Luis von Ahn, the project’s executive producer, said on the reCAPTCHA Blog.

“For now, if you are using our custom theme option, we ask that you update the instructions for the audio CAPTCHA to say something along the lines of ‘type what you hear'”, von Ahn told web site developers who implemented reCAPTCHA, signifying the possible need to modify their sites in response to this change.

Reports began to surface of blind people locked out of Twitter’s account creation process. Investigating, Blind Access Journal opened the urgent support ticket 329388 with Twitter’s technical support team on May 28.

“Please resolve this because, as it stands right now, some people are being locked out solely because they’re blind / visually impaired,” Darrell Shandrow stated as part of the request for assistance.

On June 3, the support ticket was closed and removed with the statement “Twitter is a free service, and while we try to provide as much help as we can, we can’t get to every email”. A subsequent request for follow up went unanswered.

On Friday, Twitter underwent an evening maintenance window lasting approximately one hour. Shortly after, an update appeared on the Twitter Status site “The maintenance was successful and we are back up!”

Early Saturday morning, Mika Pyyhkala (pyyhkala) reported “the audio captcha for the Twitter sign up process has been fixed and works now!”

Twitter has made no statement regarding the audio CAPTCHA or any other issues that may have been resolved in Friday’s maintenance downtime.

“Unfortunately it was a very frustrating issue for a lot of people who couldn’t get beyond it,” said Larry Gassman (Lgsinger).

New Solona CAPTCHA Solving Service Gets the Job Done, Implications for Accessibility are Uncertain

June 2, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

A new approach to solving CAPTCHAs has arrived on the scene for the blind and visually impaired. “Solona is a service that provides CAPTCHA solution assistance for visually impaired Internet users who encounter CAPTCHAS that are difficult or impossible to solve,” says Bernard Maldonado, the site’s creator. This unique service enables blind and visually impaired users to upload a CAPTCHA image and quickly receive the solved CAPTCHA code from a sighted person while safeguarding the users’ privacy and security.

I tested Solona on Twitter’s Create an Account page, where solving a CAPTCHA is required in order to sign up. After signing into Solona and opening the Twitter signup page in a new browser tab, I filled out Twitter’s form and captured the CAPTCHA image by pressing Alt+Print Screen. I then ran MSPaint, pasted the captured image into it and saved the image as a 256-color BMP file. Finally, I switched back to Solona, selected the option to Submit a CAPTCHA, uploaded the captured image file and pressed the Refresh button a couple of times as I awaited the solution. Within approximately 40 seconds, I received a correct answer which enabled me to create another Twitter account!

My experience, and that of many other blind Internet users, shows that Solona is a viable way to solve CAPTCHA images on web sites. I have two concerns with the Solona approach: one is practical and the other is philosophical.

In practical terms, the instructions for using Solona are rather complex, especially for all beginning and many intermediate blind computer users. There are instructions for use on Mac and Windows-based computers. Users are expected to understand concepts including copying and pasting, downloading and uploading files, saving files in a specific location or path and switching among several windows. Since many web sites time out if the CAPTCHA is not solved right away, the usefulness of this approach is likely to increase for beginners only after many unsuccessful practice attempts. Some intermediate and all advanced users should find the instructions easily within their grasp.

As an accessibility evangelist, I have a philosophical
concern about the use of services like Solona, where direct sighted intervention is required in order for the blind person to achieve their desired result. According to the instructions on Solona’s How it Works page, “The process is a two prong approach: The user submits a useable image of the CAPTCHA according to our instructions and a Solona operator processes the image and returns the text solution back to the user in order to proceed with the offending website.” This solution is dependent on the availability of a sighted operator. When noone is available, we can’t use this approach and an inaccessible CAPTCHA will lock us out once again. Web site owners may feel they’re off the hook with respect to ensuring the accessibility of their CAPTCHA schemes. Instead of improving accessibility, they may tell us: “Use Solona. That’s what it’s there for, isn’t it? To help you blind people?” My ultimate worry here is the creation of a separate-but-unequal status for blind people where a form of accessibility exists for us that is vastly inferior to that granted the sighted.

A major advantage of Solona is its complete accessibility for everyone, including the deaf-blind who continue to go completely unserved by web site owners who implement audio playback as their “accessible” CAPTCHA scheme. Unlike automated CAPTCHA solutions such as CAPTCHA Killer and Webvisum, no “cracking” or “hacking” is involved and there are no reasonable concerns that the service may be easily utilized to breach the protection CAPTCHA intends to deliver against spammers and other abusers. Solona is also cross-platform. Any computer and web browser that can be used to capture and upload images can be used with the service.

If stable plug-ins or screen reader scripts are created to make Solona easier to use for beginners, plans to ensure the continuous availability of sighted operators are realized and an organizational structure is established to ensure the ongoing viability of the service into the future, we may ultimately have an accessibility winner on our hands! Will the blind community embrace Solona as an acceptable way to solve CAPTCHA authentication? How will the technology industry respond? Will it raise awareness of the need for better access or will companies just dump us over to Solona without meeting their responsibility to deliver reasonable accommodations? Once a viable organizational structure exists for Solona, who will provide the funds to sustain the project? Would web site owners consider donating to Solona in leu of improving the accessibility of their own CAPTCHA schemes an acceptable accommodation? I invite all of you, my loyal readers, to take a stab at any or all of these questions in your comments. As always, your reading and participation is appreciated.

Categories: CAPTCHA

Visual Verification: Research Study on Audio CAPTCHA Technology

June 18, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Jennison Asuncion reports that a study of audio CAPTCHA technology is being conducted at the University of Washington:

A friend of mine, Jeff Bigham, a Graduate student at the University of Washington in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering is conducting research into audio captchas, the goal being to use the results to inform future development. Whether you are sighted or have a visual impairment, if you are interested in taking part in the research, go to – the study should take no more than 15 minutes, and you will need to install the latest Flash player, if you don’t have it on your system. Feel free to pass this along to others who might be interested.

We urge everyone to participate in this potentially important study which may serve to impact future development of audio CAPTCHA as well as the overall accessibility of human verification and visual authentication technology.

Visual Verification: Seeking Advocates and Experts for May 27 ACB Radio Main Menu Program Covering CAPTCHA

May 10, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

We are planning an episode of ACB Radio’s Main Menu technology talk show covering the accessibility concerns surrounding CAPTCHA and similar visually based authentication or challenge / response systems utilized to ensure the security of Internet resources. We are seeking three or four guests who consider themselves to be experts in one or more of the following areas:

  • Successful implementation of an audio playback or other accessible CAPTCHA on a web site.
  • Research into the creation of new, unique universally accessible CAPTCHA schemes and other forms of authentication.
  • Accomplished advocates who have made significant progress toward convincing web site operators to implement audio playback or other reasonable accomodations to visual CAPTCHA.
  • Anyone who can speak about their experiences with or development of accessible versions of authentication tokens, security keys and similar forms of two-factor authentication schemes found in both business and consumer applications.
  • Addressing of CAPTCHA accessibility concerns especially for deaf-blind Internet users.

We invite any of our readers meeting one or more of the above criteria to send an e-mail to for consideration as a possible guest. This show will run from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM Pacific time on Tuesday evening, May 27 (01:00 to 03:00 UTC on May 28) on ACB Radio Mainstream.

Visual Verification: Zone BBS Begins Using Accessible Text Based Challenge / Response Test to Support Secure Registration

May 10, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

We are happy to report that Zone BBS, a popular text based bulletin board system in the blind community, has switched from an audio / visual CAPTCHA scheme to THaCAA – Telling Humans and Computers Apart Automatically to ensure the security of its account registration process. Whereas the previous scheme excludes users who happen to be deaf-blind, the new text based system includes everyone. Although no CAPTCHA test is perfectly accessible or secure, we hope the new implementation will prove to be sufficiently robust for the needs of the Zone BBS.