Since my vision became impaired and I’ve had to stop driving I’ve been signing up for various online services. On a new website yesterday evening, after I’d set a username and password, there it was: the dreaded ‘captcha’.
These little collections of letters you are asked to type are are designed to stop robots of course, by being human but not machine readable. Unfortunately as the machines got smarter at deciphering them so the level of difficult seems to have been ramped up, in a sort of arms race, making it difficult for humans as well. I’ve never been very good with captchas and often have to make several attempts before it finally lets me in.
With vision loss it’s even harder but I managed to cope by squinting at the text. However it drove it home to me just what an obstacle these captures must be for those with very poor sight and anyone blind obviously can’t use them at all.
There are various ways of providing accessibility where captchas are being used. The website I was signing up with gave a link to contact the administrator, which seems quite a good approach, but a popular way of making captchas accessible is to use sound instead of text. However users complain that these are almost impossible to make out and the sample here
certainly doesn’t inspire confidence: I was completely unable to understand what was being said.
A different approach is now gaining traction which looks as though it might be much better and certainly far more accessible.
The basic idea is that rather than being presented with some text or an audio clip the user would be asked simple questions that a robot would be unlikely to be able to answer. You can read about it here
I particularly liked the suggestion in the comments: simply ask a stupid question like
‘To help stop robots please type in the word “owl”‘