Personal Connections Key in Creating Access On-line

“Access on-line is no different than access anywhere else. Locking people who are blind or visually impaired out of web-sites because of inaccessible security features is no different than denying a wheelchair user access to the built environment, such as public buildings, houses, street crossings and the like,” said Anita Shafer Aaron, Executive Director/CEO of the LightHouse of the use of CAPTCHA, the wavy letters and numbers used by many web-sites as a primary security protocol. Because CAPTCHAs are inaccessible to screen readers, a screen reader user has to rely on a sighted person to assist in navigating around this feature. This compromises the security of personal information – the very thing that web-sites try to avoid by using CAPTCHAs.

With the proliferation of internet use in all areas of contemporary life, ensuring equal access on-line is becoming ever more critical. According to a February Nielsen report, the total amount of time people spent on-line globally increased by 18% between December 2007 and December 2008; two-thirds of the world’s internet population visits social networking or blogging sites, accounting for almost 10% of all internet time; and use of social networking sites has surpassed use of email. “Because social networking takes people spread over large geographic areas and connects them to one another, it takes people from being alone and isolated to being part of a group, part of a community. For people with disabilities, there’s nothing more empowering than realizing you’re not the only one experiencing something,” said Jessie Lorenz, LightHouse Director of Public Policy and Information.

Recently, Twitter made news by improving access to their popular site by making the shift from CAPTCHA to reCAPTCHA, an accessible security alternative:

Twitter’s use of inaccessible CAPTCHA technology was a battle members of the blind community had been fighting since 2007 (see this Blind Access Journal blog post for more: But when Lorenz attended TWTRCON in May 2009, she had the opportunity to connect personally with the folks at Twitter, describing firsthand how the inaccessibility of the site affected her as a blind user. Just days after this conversation, Twitter implemented use of reCAPTCHA.

“This change at Twitter is the result of tenacious advocacy by folks who are blind and took place over a period of time. That said, hearts and minds change slowly. In the case of disability rights, those hearts and minds have not caught up with regulations. Human connection is a critical component of social change,” Lorenz commented in response to Twitter’s move to improve accessibility.

Using accessible alternatives to CAPTCHAs is one important way that social networking, and other web-sites, can promote equality for all internet users. If you come across sites using CAPTCHA we want to know!

Bloggers, please post links to inaccessible sites in the comments section below and tell us about communication you’ve had with web-site administrators, pointing out accessibility issues and recommending alternatives to CAPTCHA. Let’s work together to make connections and improve access.