Retire CAPTCHA style thinking, please

This is my annual post evaluating progress, if any, in accessibility as measured by the Congressionally recognized Computer Science Education Week outreach website. This year, oh, my, the tone of non-inclusiveness rings so loud and clear.

Regarding the NSF CISE Bits and Bytes article touted by CCCBlog honoring CSEdWeek

Did you know that the *you* of the NSF article touting re CAPTCHA doesn’t include teachers, students, researchers, citizens, and other **subhumans* with sensory or cognitive differences that limit their abilities to pass the barrier of those wiggly lines? Did you know that buying tickets, signing up for social media, commenting on websites, or applying for jobs is a privilege denied to many people otherwise fully human? Did you know the “evil CAPTCHA” is a symbol like drawing a bar across the universal wheelchair badge?

Do you know the stats of qualified individuals not in the CS field due to problems with inaccessible teaching materials, practices, pedagogical tools, and inexperience working with students with different abilities? do you know extraordinary blind developers Mic and James awarded FCC recognition for a free screen reader replacing expensive assistive technology and opening the doors for millions around the world thru open source project? Do you realize the opportunity loss that educational settings suffer when those who don’t pass the CAPTCHA test aren’t present thereby perpetuating generations of students not exposed to universal design principles and evidence of their benefits?

I’m one of those subhumans excluded by re CAPTCHA, with strong karma from my earlier days as a sighted researcher and educator. May I invite you to another world “beyond the CAPTCHA”.

  • Download iBlinkRadio app for your smart phone to listen to loads of upbeat geek talk on the technology that enables full lives within blind communities. Notice the appreciation for Apple’s strides in usability of mobile products. TrippleClickHome to turn on VoiceOver to go where your eyes aren’t needed.
  • Link through #a11y or #accessibility to Tweetups of professionals who work for inclusion through computational thinking.
  • Read up on good engineering from Chisholm and May “Universal Design for Web Applications” book and dozens of blogs and YouTube videos.
  • You might run across WebVism and Solana social responses to the “evil CAPTCHA” and positive crowd sourcing apps like VizWiz and its companions on

Wow, what people outside computer science research and education have accomplished for their own survival and advancement, despite CAPTCHA style thinking.

so, I took my dismay at the NSF/CCC non-inclusive perspective to the CSEdWeek feedback page. Lo, I could not post due to a visual only or something CAPTCHA! What were you thinking, computing association managers, to not require and test for accessibility when you so high mindedly push outreach from the computing field? The Top 10 CCC posts are truly impressive, but the humanity of the computing field exemplifies the world of TAB (temporarily abled body) thinking. It’s great if reCAPTCHA does a bit of good for resurrecting print archives, but there’s an even better story in great technology, social interaction, hard work, and stamina to dismantle the artificial barriers like wiggly lines and garbled audio. And, really, who would think there aren’t ways to pay $.50 to web workers to attack those yet un scrabbled text fragments?

How about making 2012 CSEdWeek truly inclusive? Require and test for accessibility of your websites and messages with modern practices and involving real students, educators, researchers, and citizens with more physical and cognitive diversity than the TAB world promoted so far. No, this isn’t a $10M research initiative but rather remedial work to bring thinking and practices up to a modern level of respect for civil rights and the crucial role of usable technology for everyone.

Retire the CAPTCHA style mentality,, please.

  1. Computing Community Consortium empowering U.S. research

  2. NSF CISE newsletter touting reCAPTCHA using computation with properly equipped humansFunder of BPC, Broadening Participation in Computing
  3. Computer Science Education Week outreach events, needs an accessibility statement and commitment
  4. FCC Broadband Accessibility initiative and winners including home of free open source screen reader NVDA
  5. Is CS Education ready to honor the A.D.A.? the EDUCAUSE perspective

  6. Will CS meet accessibility in 2011? Long way to go!


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5 Responses to “Retire CAPTCHA style thinking, please”

  1. Susan L. Gerhart (@slger123) Says:

    And now the take down of CAPTCHA
    Breaking CAPTCHA with Automated Humans

    Sad exploitation of web workers paid $.001 per CAPTCHA in return for false security on web sites. Also, causing collateral damage to visually and cognitively impaired, otherwise equal, humans.

    Article contains script and interesting data from experiements. Via @DaveWiner on Twitter.

    Shame on computing professionals for poor empirical investigations compounded by not so subtle discrimination.

  2. slger Says:

    Oh, no, ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) honors CAPTCHA “innovator”
    Did you know people who cannot read CAPTCHA are not human? What are you thinking, computing professionals?

  3. Why is accessibility so hard? Glad you asked! « As Your World Changes Says:

    […] Retired CAPTCHA style thinking, please! […]

  4. slger Says:

    Ha, the White House got pushback on its use of a visual and undecipherable (by humans) audio challenge. Blind people seeking to sign a petition regarding an international treaty on sharing books legally got stopped by the CAPTCHA. And complaining ensued:

    Rock bottom for CAPTCHA

    and Huffington Post on “We the People” (NOT)

    Even one (probably automated) computer professional news service took note

    Who claims origin of CAPTCHA? Often honored by ACM and fellowships, the prize seems to go to

    Personally, I would bestow a sentence of several days solving these so-called CAPTCHA with broadcast to visually impaired folks who have long suffered their abuse and denial of services.

    In response to push-back from visually impaired citizens, the challenge yesterday was a logic puzzle, like arithmetic facts or “If tomorrow is Tuesday, what is today?”. Got that one right the first time! The rest of the account creation process was confusing but eventually I seemed to have signed the petition all by myself with not a swear word along the way.

    While this might not be the tipping point against these sensory challenges, the question remains if there is still any business case given the availability of cheap web workers. A good counter-example to audio-visual CAPTCHA is the Akismet service long used successfully by WordPress to trap bots into comment spam lists. Did the audio-visual CAPTCHA ever really work or was it simply a hex sign to ward off visually impaired folks, like me.

    No matter the outcome of this worthy squabble, people who considered these CAPTCHA as human aggrandizing were merely demeaning millions of people with sensory deficits, many of us with superior computing skills that enabled equal use of the Internet provided the minimal quality of accessibility on most websites. Shameful!

  5. slger Says:

    Well, it’s about time! To do what? “Teach Accessibility”!!!

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