I am a blind computer user who is not able to read print. As a result I use Jaws (Job Access with Speech) which converts text into print and braille enabling me to have the content of the screen relaid to me. One of the major difficulties which I encounter as a user of access software is the need to solve Captchas prior to being able to post comments on websites or perform other functions such as contacting the webmaster. Captchas are visual puzzles which are rendered as images. Jaws and other screenreading software is not able to interpret images (the software sees a blank page), consequently many visually impaired people such as myself find it extremely difficult (sometimes impossible) to post on sites which utilise Captcha.
Some sites including blogger.com do have audio alternatives to visual Captchas which should, in theory allow access technology users to post in the same manner as non visually impaired people. However I know from bitter experience that many audible alternatives to visual Captchas are virtually unintelligible and that significant numbers of vision impaired people can not post independently as a consequence of the presence of Captcha.
In adition to this site (newauthoronline.com which is hosted at wordpress.com) I have, in the past few days started a blog at blogger.com (http://newauthoronline.blogspot.co.uk/). This presents me with a moral dilemma as Blogger does, as mentioned above employ Captcha, (I face no such ethical issues with wordpress.com as it does not use Captcha. WordPress utilises Akismet software which automatically detects spam without utilising Captcha and places suspected junk comments/messages in a spam folder for the webmaster to review. Akismet is in my experience at least 97 per cent accurate and it is only on rare occasions that I find a genuine comment consigned to my spam folder). I wish that Blogger used Akismet or similar software rather than the cumbersome Captcha which the user is faced with. However given that Blogger does not avail itself of alternatives to Captcha what is the visually impaired user of my Blogger site to do? One solution is for users of Firefox to download an extension called Webvisum. Among other functions Webvisum enables the blind access technology user to solve Captcha by pressing alt, control 6 which sends the Captcha to be resolved. I haven’t a clue how Webvisum performs it’s magic, however it does work in the majority of cases and I’ve successfully solved many Captchas through using Webvisum.
While many tech savvy blind people will be aware of Webvisum other visually impaired people will not. Again some people do not like Firefox and prefer to use Internet Explorer or other browsers. For such people Webvisum is not an option as it only works with Firefox. This being the case what is the solution to my dilemma? The short term solution is to place an email address on http://newauthoronline.blogspot.co.uk/ so that those unable to solve the Captcha have an alternative means of contacting me, however this may have the effect of attracting spam so I will break up the address to reduce the potential for junk mail (For example john smith at mydomain.com). In the longer term sites such as Blogger need to explore alternatives to Captcha. Akismet is not the only option. One can, for instance ask the person wishing to post a comment to solve a simple question such as “what is four plus 2”. I really can’t imagine why Blogger and other sites choose to stick to inaccessible Captcha when there exist much better means of detecting spam while permitting visually impaired people the same access as sighted individuals.
(Kevin Morris is the author of The First Time which is available in the Kindle Store).
Postscript. Since composing this post earlier today I have come across a number of posts which explain how to turn off Captcha (word verification) in Blogger. For example please see http://britpins.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/tutorial-how-to-turn-off-word.html. A number of these postings argue that turning off Captcha does not significantly increase the amount of spam received while several comments in response to the posts state that turning off Captcha has increased the amount of spam received significantly. For the reasons set out above I wish to make commenting on my Blogger site as easy as possible while avoiding so far as is possible the menace of spam. I will (assuming that I can find the relevant settings on my Blogger Dashboard) turn off word verification and monitor the effects over the coming weeks. If spam is not a major problem then all well and good, however if turning off Captcha results in a large number of spam comments I may have to reniable word verification while including a contact me link on my blog so that those who experience difficulty with Captcha can get in touch.