Solving Those Frustrating CAPTCHAs

The Problem
Creating an account on many websites, something that shouldbe simple for anyone to do, often is burdensome for someone with blindness andvisual impairment because the final step often includes the solving of aCAPTCHA. Having sighted assistance may not be a viable option, and even when itis, someone who is blind should be able to complete this task without it. Inthis post, we will define the term “CAPTCHA”, describe why one is used, andoffer some solutions that individuals who are blind and visually impaired mayuse to solve them independently.
What is a CAPTCHA?
If you’ve spent any time online, you’ve encountered a CAPTCHA.The official CAPTCHA Site explains thetool. It is used to tell humans and bots apart. A CAPTCHA is a program thatgenerates a test which humans can pass and current computer programs cannot.The term CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Touring Test to TellComputers and Humans Apart. It was coined in 2000 by four individuals fromCarnegie Mellon University.
The reason for implementing a CAPTCHA makes sense; no onewants spam, viruses or worms in their inboxes or on their sites. No one whoruns a blog wants to spend time filtering through spam comments. Havingdemonstrated the usefulness of a CAPTCHA, we are left still with the problemthat the CAPTCHA has brought with it, namely that most CAPTCHAs areinaccessible, and some of those that are accessible are not usable becausetheir speech is incomprehensible or their images are so unrecognizable thatsomeone with blindness or a visual impairment cannot solve them.
Available Solutions

Accessible CAPTCHAs

As noted above, there are some fully accessible CAPTCHAs. Asite like Text CAPTCHA offers simpletext CAPTCHAs for people who run websites or blogs to use on them. TheseCAPTCHAs consist of a question posed to you such as a simple math problem, forexample. According to the official CAPTCHA site mentioned previously, there isa greater likelihood of bots finding the answer to such a simple CAPTCHA,especially if it is used on several sites. This option, while it provides anaccessible CAPTCHA, seems not to be used very often and may not be as secure assome other, less accessible, options.


The reCAPTCHA sitefrom Google claims to offer CAPTCHAs that are easy for people to solve and hardfor bots to decode. Here is where the problems with reCAPTCHA begin.

Inconsistent reCAPTCHAs

reCAPTCHA, as advertised, offers an accessible CAPTCHA whichconsists of spoken numbers. The demo CAPTCHA on the site is relatively easy touse. If every CAPTCHA were like this one, the problem for people who are blindand visually impaired would be greatly minimized.
Allow me to include a couple of personal experiences todemonstrate the problem with reCAPTCHA. A site I visited recently had areCAPTCHA heading on it. You checked a box that said, “I’m not a robot.”
After a delay of nearly a minute, a CAPTCHA appeared alongwith an option for an audio CAPTCHA. Having selected the audio CAPTCHA, ratherthan letters or numbers, I received a seemingly continuous series of difficult questions.For instance, I was asked to select from the list all of the “Belgian ails.” Ihad to check all the correct answers using check boxes that corresponded witheach answer. Later I was told to select the “Creepiest movies.” The questionsnever got easier.
To make matters worse, some of the labels corresponding tothe check boxes read inconsistently with my screen reader. Needless to say, Iwas unable to complete the task I sought to complete.
reCAPTCHA claims to be simple to use; however, in thisparticular case, it was anything but easy. In another instance on another sitewith a reCAPTCHA, I received an audio message that said something about thecomputer transmitting signals of some sort. I was told to try again later.Perhaps the system thought my computer was a bot? Regardless of the reason, Idecided to consider other options for dealing with CAPTCHAS.
CAPTCHA Be Gone, developed by Accessible Apps, is a browserextension for Internet Explorer and Firefox. The developers hope to make itavailable for other browsers in the future. CAPTCHA Be Gone, when it isintegrated with the browser, solves a CAPTCHA with one simple keystroke andplaces the answer on the computer clipboard automatically. Simply paste thesolved CAPTCHA into the edit box on the site and hit the button to moveforward, and the CAPTCHA is solved, usually in under 15 seconds.
You can pay for CAPTCHA Be Gone monthly or annually–$3.50per month ($3 monthly during the initial rollout of CAPTCHA Be Gone) and $33annually. Since CAPTCHA Be Gone is a browser extension and not software, it isdownloaded somewhat differently.
To order or get more information, visit the CAPTCHA Be Gone website. You can doseveral things on the site, namely, listen to a demo of CAPTCHA Be Gone inaction, sign up for a newsletter that tells you when something changes, findCAPTCHA Be Gone’s Twitterpage, or sign up for the service. You must sign up by creating an accountand follow the directions in the email you receive. Don’t worry—the site doesn’tmake you solve a CAPTCHA to sign up!
If you want to know more about CAPTCHA Be Gone’s developers,visit the Accessible Apps website.There you can find out how to followthem on Twitter and read about their growing list of accessible softwaretitles including Hope, QRead, QCast, QFeed, Chicken Nugget, and QSeek.
WebVisum isa free extension/add-on exclusively forthe Firefox browser that, among other things, solves many CAPTCHAs. We were reluctant to include it because it has been available then not available then available and now seems to be unavailable again. According to the site that describes it, WebVisum works with the current version of Firefox; however, it is unclear if the extension was updated recently.The site states that you must use the latest version of Firefox; WebVisum will not workwith older versions of the browser.
Keep the following things in mind. On the page listed above,you can download the add-on; however, you cannot use it until you create anaccount, and you cannot create an account without an invitation from someonewho already uses WebVisum. Fortunately, if you fill out the form on that page and describe who you are and why you need the add-on, you should receive an invitation rather quickly. Go to the actualWebVisum homepage. On that page, choose “Register”. Enter your information,and wait for the registration code to arrive in your email. Once you receiveit, follow the directions in the email.
While researching WebVisum, we discovered another problem. The extension is not “signed”, another way of saying that it is considered experimental and appears not to be approved officially by Mozilla, the makers of Firefox. This matters because all add-ons that are not signed/approved, starting with Firefox 43, are disabled by default and cannot be downloaded. Firefox’s help site states that one can go into Firefox and change this setting and allow unsigned add-ons to work, but it requires a high level of technical knowledge to even attempt to do this. To complicate things further, I was unable to get to the stated location and even attempt to make the change. In summary, WebVisum seems like an excellent tool; it is worth getting an invitation and waiting to see if it will again be available to use; however, it is unlikely that you will be able to use it right away. Getting WebVisum signed should be easy to do; however, it appears that its developers have chosen not to remedy the problem at this time. You may wish to contact the WebVisum team using the link on the site. The site does state that it may take a long time to get a response. The best hope, then, may be for many people to contact them, indicating to the developers that people want to use WebVisum.
While you may encounter a site that uses a text CAPTCHA,such sites are few and far between. Expect to run into mostly inaccessible oronly partially accessible CAPTCHAs. While the two resources outlined in thispost have their limitations, they may solve the problem for most people who areblind and visually impaired. While other add-ons exists that claim to solve CAPTCHAs,CAPTCHA Be Gone and WebVisum were created specifically to assist peoplewho are blind and visually impaired. We look forward to hearing about yourexperiences with these browser extensions.

Stan Greenwood
A humble human, who is always found working on something or drinking coffee. A perfect introvert who talks barely anything but shares a lot through his blog posts at FredForum.

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