Several weeks ago hubby emailed me inquiring if I was familiar with accessibility issues related to a Web technology function, “[The bank's] Internet Banking site prompts users to enter a security code using — I forget what it’s called. It changes every time you sign in. You have to type in what you see. Don’t some people have trouble reading these codes? Do you know what I’m talking about? If so, do you have any links or information about people who have trouble with these verification codes?”
I was rather tickled that he’d asked me, and replied, “Yeah, I know them bastards. The “word verification” programs (such as CAPTCHA) are used to verify that a real human is using the site, instead of a spambot or whatever. Anyone with vision problems, dyslexia or other related issues hates them. One alternative is to have an accessibility option (sometimes denoted with the blue wheelchair symbol) that will provide audio of the word /letters that the user needs to type in. Obviously, this doesn’t help customers who cannot hear well. I’m not sure if screen-reading programs for the blind can read them properly, either.
You can find the current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium here; there’s a new version currently in the works. This page has W3C’s comments about CAPTCHA inaccessibility.
Personally, I hate the damn word verification things; mine seem to have too many wobbly i j b d p q letters in them, and unlike real words with familiar orthography (where I can rely on kinesthetic memory for my fingers to “autofill”), they are hard for me to read and type in correctly. “
Then a couple days ago he sends me a link for this tee shirt from Crush3r.com:
(Description: a tee shirt design with a black background around a white text box. Above the text box is the phrase, “PROVE YOU’RE NOT A ROBOT” in white letters, inside the box is the typically warped lettering found in CAPTCHA windows, with the first part of the tee shirt company’s name, “Crush3r”, and below the text box is the dot-com from the remainder of the company’s name.)
I found the shirt design to be pretty funny, but as you may have noticed, we’re a pretty geeky family. Fun with silly tee shirts aside, I still really, really dislike having to deal with CAPTCHA programs when posting comments on people’s blogs or on commercial Web sites. I quite understand the reasons why people use them, but continue to hope that someone out there will come up with a better Turing Test that doesn’t present so many dang accessibility issues!
In a related issue:
CAPTCHA is a rather clever acronym for Completely Automated Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart. A Turing Test refers to Dr Alan Turing’s idea that a computer’s intelligence could be tested by having it chat via some sort of text device with unknowing humans; if the person cannot tell that they are texting with an artificial intelligence, then the computer or robot passes the test. Naturally, a number of objections and replies came out of Turing’s original 1950 paper. This is one from the Wikipedia article linked above:
Mechanical Objections: A sufficiently fast machine with sufficiently large memory could be programmed with a large enough number of human questions and human responses to deliver a human answer to almost every question, and a vague random answer to the few questions not in its memory. This would simulate human response in a purely mechanical way. Psychologists have observed that most humans have a limited number of verbal responses.
I find this particular objection to the validity of the Turing Test to be rather interesting. “Psychologists have observed that most humans have a limited number of verbal responses.” Some of us have a more limited number of verbal responses than others! When I am stuck trying to make chit-chat with strangers in social events (such as holiday parties for hubby’s employer), I’m frequently afflicted with the terrible issue of having every line of acceptable verbal fluff evaporate from my memory. Over the years I have collected these trite phrases of polite interest that are supposed to facilitate conversation between strangers, but no matter how much I practice them, they fall out of my dialog buffer when I need them the most.
So while I’m standing there trying to follow someone’s prattle amongst the blended babble of party-goers and background music (that whole Auditory Processing Disorder bit), and desperately trying to recall and retain a relevant script before it slithers away again, I’m also losing my ability to look appropriately animated and present the correct gestures and verbal inflections. I’m prone to defaulting to taking things too literally, and resorting to factual analysis rather than the spoken equivalent of ape-grooming that is so much of the function of chit-chat.
The cocktail party as Turing Test — maybe that’s where someone came up for the idea for the Star Trek character, Spock …