Use of graphical Captchas on your website can be discriminatory


I want to discuss today the use of what are known as “Captchas” on websites. These captchas can cause real accessibility problems and even totally prevent the use of your website by vision impaired people if you don’t take care in their implementation.

Website designers and programmers really need to investigate this issue and provide a solution for blind people. If your website employs a captcha without providing an accessible alternative then you are clearly discriminating against some website visitors.

For a full explanation of Captchas I suggest you consult this Wikipedia article on captchas.

By way of brief summary website owners use captchas to try and prevent spam comments on blogs, spam through contact forms, spam registrations on forums, spam posts on forums etc. They have become necessary due to automated software and people trying to spread their message or advertisement all over the web.

The first thing to note is that Captchas are not a total solution to the problem of spam. Even the hardest captcha images can be solved by some software tools and there are companies out there that for a matter of pennies (or cents) can solve these captchas for their users.

There are also non captcha solutions that can be tried before resorting to captchas which won’t hinder your user experience as much as captchas do. You can refer your web designer or programmer to this resource on suggestions not requiring captchas.

If you have a WordPress based website then the best solution is by using a plugin called Simple Comments. It blocks spam comments and registrations etc all without using a captcha. I am not sure how it works precisely but I have been using it on a number of websites for some time and it works perfectly, all without being discriminatory.

Best of all the developer of Simple Comments Plugin offers fantastic support and is really fast in solving any problems.

If you however decide that you must use a Captcha then you really need to take into account the needs of vision impaired users. For that matter many people who consider themselves to have no eyesight problem find these captchas difficult. Using a captcha will annoy your website visitors and stop some of them completely – is that what you really want?

One requirement to make your website accessible is to have an audio captcha alternative. This means that instead of deciphering a visual challenge a blind person can listen to an audio file and type in the words that they hear instead. Now don’t just use the first audio challenge software that you find. Try it out and see if you can really use it – can you actually understand the audio or has it been disguised so well that no one can understand it. Also many vision impaired people have hearing problems as well so the audio needs to be good quality.

There is a free solution that provides reasonable quality audio and is free. It is called ReCaptcha and is – yes you guessed it! – owned by Google. Free tools and solutions are provided for different web publishing needs including a free plugin for WordPress. I installed the WordPress solution on this very site to test it out and it was very easy to setup and the audio was reasonable quality. Feel free to try it out at the comments section of this web page.

It took a little while to find the Recaptcha WordPress plugin so I will include the link here for you.

If you know of a better audio solution then leave a comment and I will investigate it and let everyone know.

There is however another solution that lets you be fully accessible to both vision and hearing impaired website users. The solution is known as logic captchas. This basically involves the website visitor being asked a logic question such as a mathematical problem, or some common knowledge solution. You can get the software and tools free of charge to use such a solution at this text captcha website.

What I wanted to do here was alert you to the problems presented by captchas. They really can be discriminatory and cause problems for many of your website visitors. I am sure you have been confronted by a captcha that was just impossible to solve! So please take the needs of blind and vision impaired website users into account when designing your website. Using a captcha without providing an alternative for vision and/or hearing impaired users is clear discrimination.

I would like to see website designers take our needs into account and provide workable solutions. Given that there are free solutions and you don’t have to develop the technology yourself there is just no excuse for failling to provide alternatives.

If you know of other solutions then please leave a comment.