CAPTCHAs hinder blind and partially-sighted web access, say campaigners

Change.org petition launched

CAPTCHA security screens cause huge frustration for blind and partially-sighted Internet users and should be ditched by large tech firms and governments in favour of more accessible alternatives, a coalition of Australian disabilities organisations has argued.

Launching a petition on change.org, Wayne Hawkins of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), described how the system was stopping millions of vision-impaired people from accessing popular websites.

"I'm constantly frustrated when trying to book concert tickets online, contribute to online forums and email politicians through the contact forms on their websites - all because CAPTCHA is so inaccessible," wrote Hawkins. "It is time to kill CAPTCHA once and for all."

Even audio CAPTCHAs had not solved the issue because the voice processing could sometimes render them inaudible, he said.

"I must have listened to the Skype audio CAPTCHA 20 times before I gave up and asked my sighted friend to set up my account," he said.

His petition is backed by a range of organisations in addition to his own, including Blind Citizens Australia, Media Access Australia, Able Australia and the Australian Deafblind Council.

Hawkins might also have made the point that CAPTCHAs (the completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart) no longer work, period.

Invented to keep out automated bots, the technology has been under attack for years in a drip-by-drip undermining of what was once seen as a reliable security measure.

Last year, researchers said they'd discovered a version of the Cridex Trojan that could break the CAPTCHAs used by Yahoo in minutes, only the latest in a series of attacks.

Earlier this year, global ticketing site Ticketmaster announced that it was abandoning them in favour of puzzle-based systems that it believed would be more effective.

Part of the reason they persist is that nobody has come up with an alternative that doesn't either have more security problems or solves the security issue at a price.

Hawkins remains convinced that large Internet firms that influence wider use could set an example by getting rid of them.

"The biggest internet companies including Google, Microsoft and Facebook should take a leadership role in eradicating CAPTCHA from their services and, eventually, the rest of the web."

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