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A Rant: Visual Verification - AS IT HAPPENS

Mon, Aug. 7th, 2006

11:18 am - A Rant: Visual Verification

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Now, I don't know if anyone with real power is reading this, but I will write it here anyway. I wrote an article on The Internetjust a week or two ago, but this topic is so important that my failing to mention it is quite surprising to me. It occurred to me to discuss this issue after listening to the July 21st episode of Shelly's Podcast, a show which you all are probably aware that I love.

For the blind and visually impaired, the Net has brought unprecedented access to the world. We can now buy tickets, go shopping, and even create blogs like this one with the ease of the rest of the general population. It is a major reason why I have been able to live independently with my blind cousin, paying bills and taking care of most other essential tasks in this space.

However, do to the proliferation of spam, mainly through the creation of all sorts of fake websites and accounts, many organizations have decided to adopt the system of visual word verification, which as you all no doubt know, requires you to see and type a series of characters into a box. While this may not be much of a chalenge for sighted people, for blind and visually impaired folks it creates a nearly impossible barrier to the rest of the site we are trying to access.

As Shelly stated, I too had tried to create a MySpace account, but was met with this barrier. And as far as I could tell, there was no other way around it, I just had to give up on the idea altogether. And while I wouldn't deem such an account as something to which I must have access, if this monster continues to grow without control, it can easily move into sectors that I am currently using and benefitting from.

I like what Google has done, creating an audio link to hear a list of numbers that can be typed into the box. This resulted from an online petition drawn up by another blind individual who wanted to see change, and amazingly, got a big company to listen to his protestations. However, to petition every site with verification would be a time consuming endeavor, so I hope to at least in some small way make the general public understand the problem and to fix it at its source. I don't honestly know if I should expect much though, I am very aware that the blind are just not a major priority to big business anyway, since they don't generally hurt by the loss of our dollars. But if one isn't willing to drop that pebble in the water, then how can he or she expect the waves of change to come?

Comments:

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From:youtoldalie
Date:August 7th, 2006 03:40 pm (UTC)
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This is not directed towards you at all, but that's bullshit! The fact that society and/or certain businesses may not want to put forth the effort to make their websites more accessible to those who are visually impaired is bullshit and that really pisses me off.

In my opinion, business is business, money is money, website hits are website hits, popularity is popularity whether it's coming from people who are blind or not, you know what I mean? They shouldn't treat you like you're expendable, I guess you could say. That's not cool.

But at the same time, maybe I should give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they don't realize and maybe it's best for people to get the word out there and make them aware of this problem. Google is a huge company and I'm really glad that they listened and made the audio link available. Hopefully, since they are such a big company others will catch on.

Myspace sucks anyways so screw 'em lol :P
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From:johnmill79
Date:August 7th, 2006 03:53 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I think you're right actually. Maybe that was the wrong way to put it, its more like blind people aren't really seen by big business, and they don't therefore know what our issues are. I suppose its difficult to cater to every market out there, but this is why I feel the need to speak up for myself, know what I mean? Nothing will happen if I just sit here quietly and complain about it to my buddies.
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From:youtoldalie
Date:August 7th, 2006 04:10 pm (UTC)
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Oh no, you said it right. What you said is the truth! That is how they think it needs to be addressed, with the quickness. I know what you mean though. There have been plenty of times when, being female, black, and in my twenties, I've been faced with situations where I can't help but think, well, what can I do? I'm just one person. I can't change things. My opinion doesn't matter. But at the same time, where would I be if those who came before me thought that way?

You pick and choose your battles though. I agree that it's probably not worth your time and effort to hunt down every single site that has that spam filter and make it your personal mission to get them to change that part of their website. But if it's a site that you really want to sign up for, send them an email. That may be all it will take for them to go, Hey! Maybe we should think about adding an audio link for those who are visually impaired! Of course we want as many people as possible to be able to use our site! A lot of businesses go out of their way to make their websites easy to use for those who are not visually impaired so there's no reason those who are should be exluded from that equation.

Anyway, not to turn this into some raging rant LOL I'm just heated. Your blogs do that to me. They're so thoughtful and insightful and informative that I can't help but get worked up. They make me think! That's a good thing btw :)
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From:johnmill79
Date:August 7th, 2006 04:20 pm (UTC)
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lol Well thanks, at this point, my mission is certainly to get people to think about things that haven't occurred to them. I don't really get angry, because in many cases they are just suffering from a lack of exposure, but I do certainly acknowledge that intentional discrimination exists as well.
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From:becca4of5
Date:August 7th, 2006 06:50 pm (UTC)
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I had never even thought about this before.
I wonder..if businesses have to provide handicap accessible buildings, could a case be brought for having accessible websites. This is just one new area of law I'm not familiar with.
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From:johnmill79
Date:August 7th, 2006 08:00 pm (UTC)
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I think that technically they are supposed to provide accessible websites, I can't tell you where the law is but I heard somewhere that there is one. Of course, no matter how much leglislation is passed, you can't really make companies do anything, especially if they don't wanna spend the money. Its hard enough to get folks to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
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From:adamant_turtle
Date:August 7th, 2006 07:13 pm (UTC)
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I really hadn't thought of that, honestly, but...

In the meantime, have you maybe sent an email to the MySpace people? It's highly possible that THEY didn't even think of it as a problem. These days everyone's so busy concentrating on security features that it may just block out concerns of everything else...
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From:johnmill79
Date:August 7th, 2006 07:59 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I'm thinking I should try that. It would probably take some digging to find the e-mail address to send it to though. I do think they're bonkers over security these days.
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From:adamant_turtle
Date:August 7th, 2006 08:08 pm (UTC)
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Try starting here:

http://collect.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=misc.contact
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From:johnmill79
Date:August 7th, 2006 10:26 pm (UTC)
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Will do, that's much appreciated.
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From:1jodie
Date:August 7th, 2006 08:55 pm (UTC)
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the things i don't think about as a sighted person. i always think what a nuisance those word verification programs are when sending emails or signing up for something. i never even thought about how it would affect the blind or visually impaired. it's nice to know that the technology exists to accommodate people with a verbal verification program. it's too bad that it's not more widely used. please keep me posted and let me know what i can do (sign a petition, etc.)
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From:johnmill79
Date:August 7th, 2006 10:20 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for that kind response, and certainly I will notify if any action can be taken.
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From:shazza59
Date:August 7th, 2006 10:09 pm (UTC)
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Bank of America does a similar thing to Google, but instead of giving you an audio verification, you are allowed to title your "site key", so that when you log in and you hear the title of your site key, you know you are in the bank's secure site. As for myspace, it's nice to see some older people hanging out on it. The problem as I see it with that site is that it's so popular, so prevalent, (some of my daughter's preteen friends have lied about their ages to get a myspace account), that this particular company doesn't need to offer an audio option because they just don't care. I'm not sure they can be made to care either.
Perhaps the only thing you can do is to make those around you aware of the lack of an audio option on myspace and get the word out that way.
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From:johnmill79
Date:August 7th, 2006 10:31 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I bank with BofA, and I like their option too.

I'm sure security on MySpace is always going to be a problem, I heard something recently where they said the amount of adult harrassment is on the rise too. A lady said someone pilfered all of her account info and created a totally different account using her pics! She was getting nervous too, because the person was even going as far as to claim that lady's family. I guess the problem of annonymity on the net will always be there and can present a threat to people of all ages, but of course children are particularly vulnerable.
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From:lynda
Date:August 8th, 2006 12:57 pm (UTC)
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Coming from the perspective of someone who has designed and managed websites, I think the real problem is that this visual verification thing was an idea put together quickly to band-aid the spammer problem. People just didn't think that this wasn't going to work for blind people. Now that there are so many visual verification techniques employed, it's more of an issue of the webmasters being ignorant of better methods.

I think the problem is ignorance, not a desire to be inaccessible or stingy or anything. Unfortunately, writing into companies who use visual verification might not do any good. The chances of your email getting to someone who manages the website and can make the switch to visual OR audio verification is not likely. The big companies will all have to do away with solely visual verification and employ the newer audio+visual before the smaller companies and websites follow suit.

Not that it helps you now, but I think within 5 years, we won't see many more visual only verifications and they'll be replaced by a more accessible method. It's unfortunate, but that seems to be the way internet technology goes. It's built first without any regard to accessibility.

The best bet in any situation like this is to find the highest person on the chain in the company to point out the flaw. A rep receiving an email or a phone call about this issue will probably apologize for the inconvenience, say they will forward the issue on and then forget about it. A CEO receiving a phone call or email about this issue will be much more likely to own the situation and make sure the proper people are tasked with fixing it. Companies want to be accessible, but they're not really fully aware of how they can be and web designers rarely ever concern themselves with making sure every aspect of the sites they build are accessible.
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From:johnmill79
Date:August 8th, 2006 01:23 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I just had more fun trying to join yet another website. And the worse part there is that I can't even e-mail them unless I've paid for their service. So I guess they've lost my business.

I'm hoping that perhaps a solution can be found that utilizes our screen reading software, as that would allow us to bypass the issue of trying to bring every site into compliance. But, I don't know if that's likely. I suppose I can wait another five years, but that's sad.
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From:lynda
Date:August 8th, 2006 02:13 pm (UTC)
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I don't know anything about screen reading software, but is it possible to contact the company who makes the software you use to explain the situation to them and see if there's any workaround they can provide? I doubt it, as the whole system is put in place to make it impossible to figure out what's in the image without visual verification, but that might be a better place to start.

You might also want to write into various associations for blind people. They might be better equipped to contact various big company websites to explain why accessibility will only benefit them and is cheap to employ.
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From:johnmill79
Date:August 8th, 2006 02:15 pm (UTC)
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Excellent points, and ones I hadn't really thought of. Thanks.
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