Saturday, July 21, 2007

Yahoo continues to employ CAPTCHA without accessible alternative

If somebody says the word” CAPTCHA ,” many people do not recognize it. However, when those same people go on-line and use a web site where they submit something to the site, then are asked to verify that the user is human by typing in the distorted text in a picture, they know what that is, but don’t know what it is called.

These two things are one and the same and CAPTCHA without an accessible alternative is a curse to screen reading programs, which see the image as just another graphic on the page. The blind computer user relying on the screen reader is unable to read the text because the screen reading software sees the image as a graphic, not text, and is unable to discern any text characters from the graphic.

Some people have tagged CAPTCHA without audio, or other accessible workarounds, as a “No Blind People Allowed” sign, a statement that is true in its meaning, even though the host site may have been unintentional in denying access, because the web designer just didn’t even think about denying access when trying to screen out automated, computer generated responses. However, the end result of web inaccessibility is still the same.

It wasn’t that long ago that Google presented this same CAPTCHA problem and one man began an on-line petition to bring the innaccessability of the screening technology to Google’s attention. Google now employs an audio option for its web pages when they employ CAPTCHA.

There are a few other notable web sites which have also made their CAPTCHA accessible, but one giant and globally recognized web site has not—the search engine Yahoo!, which offers a cursory solution to the inaccessibility that many blind users claim does not work. Yahoo! Has employed a policy of “email us your phone number and a Yahoo! Rep will call you,” but the reps apparently do not follow up with their calls. I can personally attest to twice having tried this method, only to have my request ignored by whichever rep received them. I was only able to proceed in what I was doing when I sought sighted assistance, losing both time and productivity.

If a person using a screen reader wants to do something as simple as set up a Yahoo! email account or subscribe to a Yahoo! group, they have to get past this inaccessible CAPTCHA. If the Yahoo! reps are supposed to call these users after they submit their phone numbers, but don't, then the site is simply inaccessible.

Like the previous effort directed at Google, there is now an on-line petition for blind computer users to sign, which is an attempt to bring Yahoo! Into the fold of web accessibility. The web domain
Has been set up as an easy to remember web site to help blind computer users get to the petition. (The petition is actually hosted on another site, but this URL will automatically redirect users to the petition.)

As Google and other web sites have demonstrated, accessible alternatives exist that still provide the security the web sites need. This doesn’t have to be expensive, either. There is one solution that is “donationware,” called
FormShield for .NET 2.0

A few years ago, in an honor society newsletter, I read something that truly applies in this case. The quote was “efficiency is doing the thing right, but effectiveness is doing the right thing.” It is time for Yahoo! To step up and do the right thing.

If you know somebody who is a blind computer user, please direct them to the web site above to sign the petition. The web is a wonderful tool and one that should be free of access barriers such as inaccessible CAPTCHA.

1 comment:

Dan said...

Hi, I've written an accessible captcha system in PHP that is available under the LGPL licence that you may be interested in
System-X Accessible Captcha System - textTHaCAA