You know that box of distorted letters that shows up when you’re about to submit your comment to a blog post? Or when you are setting up afacebookaccount? Or when you are casting a vote to get your favoriteWhite Sox player onto the2008 Major League Baseball All Star team?
You have to read the text, then enter the characters you see into a form. Then, and only then, can you complete the transaction.
But if you’re blind, you can’t see a dang thing in that box. People with certain types of low vision can’t make sense of those distorted characters in the box, either. Same for some folks with cognitive disabilities — dyslexia, for example.
That box of distorted letters is called a CAPTCHA: Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart. CAPTCHAs are meant to prevent robots from spamming or overvoting or whatever it is that computer robots do in their spare time.
Many sites using CAPTCHA have added an audio option. This probably makes them feel good about helping the blind. It might make sighted people who see that link feel good, too, to know those of us who can’t see have an option. Trouble is, those audio CAPTCHAs are impossible!
Wanna see, I mean, hear, for yourself? Go to the Gmail sign up page and click on “Listen and type the numbers you hear.” You’ll hear a woman’s voice speaking numbers, but creepy noises and voices talking backward in the background make it very difficult to figure out exactly what she is saying.
In fact, the next time you get nostalgic for those mysterious backward-talking “Paul is Dead” clues on Beatle albums, you don’t have to get out your turntable and old LPs. Just link to an audio CAPTCHA. A bonus: After the creepy voice reads the numbers out loud, she says, “Once again.” The numbers and nonsense background noises repeat, and you get to be freaked out one more time.
It’s not just gmail that has crazy noises on its audio CAPTCHA. ALL of the audio CAPTCHAs that I’ve linked to sound like this. The background noise is disturbing. It makes it nearly impossible to hear the numbers. To do this on my own, I drag out my tape recorder, record the creepy voice, then play it over and over to figure out what she’s saying. You know, the same way I used to listen for “Paul is Dead” clues on old Beatle albums!
But I’m not a teenager anymore. By the time I’ve listened to the CAPTCHA a half-dozen times, I feel frustrated by how much time I’ve wasted on this endeavor. I don’t leave many comments on blogs. I wasn’t able to set up a facebook account on my own. I wanted to vote for Jermaine Dye to play in the Major League All Star Baseball Game this year, but I couldn’t.
I use a blogging service called wordpress.com to publish these blog posts you read. Why did I decide to use wordpress for my Safe & Sound blog?? Because they don’t make users fill out a CAPTCHA form to sign up for an account. Folks who comment to my blog posts don’t have to pass through a CAPTCHA screen, either. Sure, I get spam from time to time, but the wordpress spam blockers usually weed them out. The few spams that make it past the blocker? I delete them.
Last week I gave a session called Blogging by Ear at the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) International Conference. Alexis Reed, a woman who has commented to this blog before, was in the audience. What fun it was to meet her – and her wonderful Seeing Eye dog Julia – face to face after knowing her virtually through this Safe & Sound blog. ! Alexis wrote a blog post about her time in Chicago –It was her Seeing Eye dog’s first time at a professional conference like this. After reading her post I was tempted to leave a comment. That’s when I found out I had toAt first I thought I’d have to sign up with LiveJournal to do that. But then Alexis commented to this post to let me know I could comment anonymously. Voila! Add LiveJournal to the list of accessible blog services. No CAPTCHA on the comment form , either.
I guess I’m lazy. Or maybe, just old?! I’m hesitant to sign up for all this stuff every time I want to leave a comment – especially knowing I might face a CAPTCHA afterwards anyway.
During the q&a part of my Blogging by Ear session last week, a majority of the comments were about CAPTCHA workarounds. It was reassuring, yet sad, to discover I am not alone in my frustration!