Take the AbilityNet CAPTCHA challenge

There's no doubt about it: CAPTCHA is evil. For a lot of people those distorted images you see on online forms are annoying, but for a disabled person they can be a complete showstopper. I have written about how CAPTCHA hinders people with disabilities (Website Security: Sorting the Humans From the Robots) but today’s blog is to give you a first-hand experience of its evil ways.

What is the AbilityNet CAPTCHA challenge?

It's a very simple way for you to understand why CAPTCHA is an accessibility no-go. All you need is pen and paper (or suitable digital alternative).

Below is a video in which I play an example of audio CAPTCHA. I challenge you to play the video, write down the audio version of the CAPTCHA and try your best to get the right answer.

The nightmare that is CAPTCHA

So how did you get on? You didn’t think that the audio would be the same as the visual CAPTCHA did you? That would have been far too easy.

And how many times did you have to play it before you got two answers the same?

I’ve never successfully been able to interpret an audio CAPTCHA. For the record I listened to the video twice and my answers were:

  • 93797800908
  • 923797800908
  • 937978O0090
  • 9237978o00908

You’ve just experienced what a blind person like myself hears when we click on the audio-CAPTCHA icon (usually a wheelchair for some bizarre reason). It’s usually encountered at the very end of an online process for something important such as registering for an account or buying a product.

For many others with a vision impairment, dyslexia or learning difficulty the visual alternative is just as challenging. As it invariably comes at the end of the online process, for these users it’s a tragic tumble you aren’t getting up from - just as the finishing line is in sight.

CAPTCHA Be Gone

Yesterday I came across a new service that may help. Called ‘CAPTCHA Be Gone’ it enables someone to submit a CAPTCHA for solving with a simple keystroke. Within a few seconds you have your illusive answer miraculously pasted to your clipboard.

It’s a plug-in for Firefox so only useful if that’s your preferred browser (which for many disabled users it is) and moreover has a $3 a month service charge. I suspect this is because it employs actual humans solving your CAPTCHAs across the internet.

For disabled people everywhere, however, who know the pain of being blocked from so many services by the evil that is CAPTCHA this is a very small price to pay.

Don’t be evil - Don’t use CAPTCHA

Google famously has a motto ‘Don’t be evil’ and are indeed taking steps to improve on the accessibility catch-22 that is CAPTCHA (more info in that blog on sorting the humans from the robots) but there is still a long way to go before its tyranny is no longer felt by users across the internet.

In the meantime remember the day you took the AbilityNet CAPTCHA challenge. Think about the impact that CAPTCHA, unlabelled images more generally, and so many other aspects of website inaccessibility are having on disabled users every day.

Try to be part of the solution. Try not to be evil - embrace accessibility in everything you do.

Challenge others and spread the word

Now you know how much of a challenge CAPTCHA is why not challenge others?

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