Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Dreaded CAPTCHA!

I am blind and can not read my computer's screen. I access the internet and other aspects of my PC using JAWS (Job Access with Speech) which reads the screen aloud and allows the user to receive a braille representation of the screen via a braille display. One of the difficulties which confronts me as a visually impaired computer user is that of CAPTCHA. CAPTCHAS are distorted images, frequently containing words which the computer user must solve before being able to perform certain functions such as signing up for a website forum. JAWS and other similar software is not able to read CAPTCHAS (the software sees a blank screen), consequently many blind computer users either require sighted assistance in solving CAPTCHAS or they simply give up on attempting to use the site.
This blog is hosted by Blogger who (unfortunately) use CAPTCHA. Blogger does have an audio option on which those who are not able to read the visual CAPTCHA may click, however the quality of the sound is so poor that it is often impossible to hear what is being spoken and, as a result I and other blind people often give up in frustration and fail to comment on that post which caught our interest.
CAPTCHA is intended to prevent robots from spamming websites. Spam is a problem and one might argue that any measures which reduce it's menace are justified. However there are ways of combating spam which do not entail CAPTCHA. Wordpress for example uses Akismet software which separates the wheat from the chaf. Suspected spam is placed in a spam folder for the blogger to review while genuine comments are sent to the website owner for approval. In my experience Akismet is at least 98 per cent effective in preventing spam and best of all the commenter is not faced with an inaccessible CAPTCHA to solve!
Even where CAPTCHA is employed there exist better CAPTCHAS than those used by blogger.com. For example I have come across sites which ask the user to perform a simple calculation prior to posting (E.G. "what is four plus three").
I have no idea why Blogger persists in using such an unfriendly CAPTCHA method which deters not only blind computer users but many others also from commenting on posts.
The user of Blogger does have the option to turn off word verification or CAPTCHA, however I have not been able to work out how to do this thus far. I wonder just how many people are being detered from commenting on my posts by the presence of CAPTCHA. Come on Blogger you can do better than this!
(Kevin Morris is the author of The First Time which can be purchased in the Amazon Kindle store).

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