Captcha, Discrimination, Not Security

Captchas, Discrimination, Not Security

Captchas, those visual image verification codes on web sites that tell you to enter the letters or numbers you see.

Site administrators may or may not be aware of the pitfalls of using these captchas on their sites. Captchas can be hard to read, even if you can read print. The coding may be buggy. But when it works, it's said to increase security and block out the spammers and hackers.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Visual image captchas are bad. Captchas block out and discriminate against visually impaired users, punishing them as spammers. Site admins may have no idea, the thought may not have occurred to them, and they most likely didn't actively set out to block legitimate users, but that is exactly what visual captcha does.

Visual verification that requires you to enter characters in an image you see, or answer a question about what's in an image you see, blocks out anyone with a visual impairment.

Clicking to get a larger image displayed does nothing at all for people with severe vision impairments who cannot even read large print.

Audio captchas are becoming available on a growing number of sites, but even they aren't good enough. The deaf-blind use braille displays and cannot see a picture or hear a corresponding sound.

Captchas force the blind, deaf-blind and visually impaired to surrender what independence they once had on site registration and forms, reducing them to begging a sighted person or site admin for help in account creation, form submittal, group creation, anywhere there is a mandatory visual verification code.

This is not a tiny little inconvenience that occurs every once in a blue moon, but an ongoing, day to day problem. Trying to register, make comments, create groups, or fill out any form to completion is a crapshoot if you are visually impaired. If you are on your own, trying to make a submission on a site and you are pressed for time, you are completely out of hope when you run up against a captcha and there is no one you can get to help you.. Site administrators may or may not have time or the desire to help you.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Many captcha-using sites add further insult to the visually impaired when they demand you to "prove you are human" by entering in a visual code. If you are blind and you cannot see an image, does that disqualify you as a member of the human race? According to captcha, yes!

If you are visually impaired, running up against this cyber face-slapping half or more than half the time you try to make submissions to various sites, is demoralizing. You are told again and again that you are not welcome, you are not human, and you have only two options. Give up, or pester a site administrator or someone else for help with something you could do on your own before.

It's inconvenient, frustrating, embarrassing, and insulting to the dignity of people who are at the mercy of visual verification captchas.

The idea may have been to keep out spammers, but it is short-sighted. It is likely accessibility issues never entered the minds of whoever invented and still use visual only captchas, and there are still web sites today which have not provided the visually impaired an alternative.

There are two sites that help the vision impaired by solving captchas for them as they are submitted. However, even these have their pitfalls.

http://www.solona.net and http://www.webvisum.com.

Solona is dependent on live operators so that if there is no one at the site when you go to submit a captcha to be solved in real time, you are still out of luck. Even the operators there are sometimes unable to read and solve a captcha.

Webvisum is a marvellous script that you can submit captchas to be solved, and usually, not always, get the solution. But it only works with Firefox, so if for some reason you can't use that web browser, you are also out of luck.

Not even Solona or Webvisum can solve all captchas.

Static and dirty Captchas

There are three types of offensive visual captchas, static, dirty, and the static dirty captcha.

Static captchas are images that remain the same and don't time out on a user.

Dirty captchas are images that refresh, therefore, change every several seconds. By the time you get the code from Solona or Webvisum, or even the person next to you who can see the screen, the image has refreshed and changed, and the one you might have entered is no longer valid.

Myspace's dirty captcha only gives you 80 seconds to enter the code before it changes.

Static dirty captchas are images that remain the same, but impossible for anyone to solve without perfect sight, even with Solona or Webvisum at their disposal.

Examples of static dirty captchas are those that tell you to answer a question based on what you see in an image, not simply to type the letters or numbers that appear. A static dirty captcha may tell you to name the fruit or vegetable in the image, or ask you to input the name of the person whose picture is on the screen.

Facebook, in response to its founder's page getting hacked, took a draconian measure in the form of a static dirty captcha that will not punish hackers, but rather, the visually impaired. You have to enter the name of the friend who's picture shows up in the captcha image.

If you are visually impaired, dyslexic, or a slow typist, you have no chance against a dirty or static dirty captcha that is determined to slam the door in your face again and again, making sure you know you are not welcome on any site that uses it. Whether or not the message was intentional, it comes out the same, with the design of visual image captcha, the visually impaired simply weren't taken into consideration.

In addition to blind users having the door shut in their faces at sites that use visual captchas, sometimes sighted people have problems with these too.

Furthermore, It is evident that spam problems still occur as much as ever on sites that use captchas. Some spam outfits have been known to pay people to manually solve captchas for them. So, captcha is much more successful at blocking the visually impaired than blocking spammers. It is truly a cure that's worse than the disease.

If a site administrator feels so strongly that they must employ a captcha, there is a newer, truly accessible variety that should be more effective. It prompts you with a question in text format and requires you to fill in the answer. To avoid being any sort of dirty captcha, the questions should never require a person to be able to see an image to answer.

Bad examples: Which number in the picture is red?" "Which animal in the picture above has four legs?" "Name the friend whose picture you see."How is someone who can't read print and has to rely on a screenreader supposed to know that?

Good examples: "How many legs does a cat have?" "What's 2+2?" Math questions can be asked in a number of different ways to hault a bot and still be accessible to a user. "What's 6 divided by 2?" What's 5 added to 3?" Even "What color is an orange?" is still a good example, because everyone except the bots, sighted or not, knows the answer.

All auto-refreshing captchas are dirty and should never be employed, even in text format, because some users need time to read and then select or type in the correct answer.

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