Prove You’re Not A Robot

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 a tee shirt from, with a 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 …


  1. kay nandlall said,

    7 November 2012 at 19:04

    I too hate this it took me twenty mins and I GIVE UP. The voice recognition is worse.!!!

  2. grow taller 4 idiots reviews said,

    6 November 2012 at 1:24

    I wanted to thank you for this good read!! I definitely loved
    every bit of it. I’ve got you bookmarked to look at new stuff you post…

  3. Lisa Hessler said,

    8 August 2011 at 23:40

    My computer will not even display what is on the box. anyone know why or how to fix this??

  4. Finny said,

    28 March 2008 at 2:34

    I, too, hate those little “word box password thingies,” as I tend to call them when the proper term escapes my mind (oddly enough, when I cannot remember the name of something, whatever I use in its place tends to be much longer and more complicated!). As I am both visually impaired (not officially legally blind, but my legally blind husband is frequently able to see things better than I can, and I have other vision issues that he does not) and have major auditory processing problems (once again not official–where I come from one cannot be “smart” or “intelligent” and also have problems of any sort or be disabled, so I spend a lot of time going “Huh?” and asking “What?” and looking stupid–but very much there nonetheless), neither the standard version nor the alternative are of much use to me. It is most annoying.

    I once spent fifteen minutes trying to register for a site to get information about a friend’s wedding (information that I could not get any other way), and was unable to do so until my husband arrived home from work and managed to type the right letters in the little box. He is legally blind, as I said, but he still has some vision (about 20/200 in his right eye, whatever that means), and he is better at things like that. My eyes, while I technically have more vision, do not function together properly, so I am always seeing double and “through things” in addition to nearsightedness so severe I might as well be farsighted at the same time, as I tend to try and explain to people.

    Anyhow, that’s enough random babble from me. Just had to comment on the difficulty those annoying word box password thingies cause!

  5. 10 October 2007 at 1:38

    Some of us non-autistic people have trouble with warped letters and look-alike letters (capital I vs lowercase L etc) also.

    I’m not blind or dyslexic so I don’t have the same level of difficulty as some people with CAPTCHA things, but I still find them Really. Annoying. Especially the CAPTCHA programs that, just to be really really sure, ask you to plug in a captcha word TWICE. Of course, as a deaf person, using the audio alternative is worthless for me. (I did know about the symbol. But, yah, the wheelchair symbol should be reserved FOR WHEN SOMETHING IS TARGETED AT WHEELCHAIR USERS. There are other symbols associated with other disabilities. There are even carefully written regulations and policies about how to use each of these symbols (like the TTY symbol for TTY phones, etc) but the trouble is, some places misuse them. I saw an “ear” symbol once (which is SUPPOSED to be used specifically for accommodations for hard of hearing people, such as sound amplifiers or audio loops) used to label a button that wheelchair users were supposed to push if they needed assistance. The idea being that there was a means for two-way audio communication with someone. Which, of course, a deaf person would have been completely unable to use (a hard of hearing person maybe, but with difficulty).

  6. qw88nb88 said,

    9 October 2007 at 23:47

    John smith, do you mean that literally, or are you speaking tongue-in-cheek?

  7. John smith said,

    9 October 2007 at 20:15

    People with “vision problems, dyslexia or other related issues” are inferior and should not be accommodated.

  8. elizabeth said,

    8 October 2007 at 7:16

    Ironically, the blog I am most rejected from due to word verification is my own. I will try the wheelchair symbol – I haven’t simply because while often typing FROM a wheelchair, I couldn’t see how this would make the identification of a bunch of “j”, “i” and “g” all twisted in a row any easier. I have learned to simply make a copy of every entry before going to add it and find that I have been given a 12 letter hell test which makes those math word problems look enjoyable.

  9. 7 October 2007 at 15:17

    I have trouble with those. My friend, who’s blind, says her word identification software cannot read them.

  10. Suzanne said,

    7 October 2007 at 3:30

    Just need to say HATE the word verifications, especially those warped ones. I have even had trouble getting them right with the help

  11. 6 October 2007 at 18:48

    Glad to hear that it is not just me that labours over ‘word verification’
    It can take me several attempts, the thought never entered my dyslexic brain to click on the disabled icon

  12. Casdok said,

    6 October 2007 at 14:46

    I too had wondered what the wheelchair symbol was for! So thank you for that!

  13. qw88nb88 said,

    6 October 2007 at 12:47

    Shiva, that’s a great tee shirt!

    And you’re right about the “transitional stage” as well. The very-small talk of passing and greeting in the hallway, or waiting for a turn at the microwave, or for the coffeepot to finish brewing, is not so hard. One acquires a battery of general phrases to adapt to the particular day.

    The big talk — actual conversation as exchange-of-information with persons whom you know or with whom you have things in common — during lunch time or at a meeting is okay.

    It is the middle-size talk, the chit-chat, that is difficult.


  14. shiva said,

    6 October 2007 at 12:32

    “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.”

    So THAT’s what clicking on that symbol does… i tried it once, just to see what the alternative was, and my computer crashed. It’s not much use for anyone who doesn’t have audio on their computer, either…

    I hate the captcha things too. They very often have characters which could very easily be either of 2 similar characters, just warped different ways – for example, capital I and lowercase l (which are absolutely identical in a lot of fonts, for example this one), lowercase i and j (if stretched and warped), lowercase g and q (likewise)… also letters whose upper and lowercase forms are too similar to reliably distinguish if stretching and warping is going on (S, W, K, C, etc)… this seems to be one of those things where neurotypical people can just “automatically” distinguish between things on either side of an arbitrary line, whereas many autistic people, including myself, can’t (i think Jane Meyerding has written about something similar).

    Someone recently posted a link in a comment on my blog to a community called Fractalus, which looks really awesome (at least potentially), but i can’t seem to join it because of the captcha in the register link – oddly, it seems to be one of the less distorting ones, and i was fairly confident i was typing the right characters, but every time it seemed to tell me what i typed was wrong…

    The ones that are slightly better (for me) have different coloured lines over and around the characters rather than distorting them. I guess those would be a problem for people with colour blindness tho…

    I have a certain number of memorised stock phrases that i use in circumstances (such as hunger, tiredness or before my first cup of tea of the day) when i’m not really capable of coherent responsive speech – kind of like making echolalia work for me… with these i’ve found i can get through very casual interactions reasonably well. The thing i find difficult is the situations (eg parties of a certain size) where it’s kind of a transitional stage between that and “true” conversation – where you’re expected to talk about “real” subjects, but not in the depth and detail i find it necessary to talk about them in (certain message boards can be a bit like that too sometimes)…

    I saw a T-shirt advertised once that said on it “I failed the Turing test” ;)

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