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Heather from Atlanta, Ga. writes “I’m blind and keep having major problems with web sites including a Captcha to fill out. The problem is that it’s visual. Swagbucks is just one of them, and I can’t even contact them anymore about this, because they’ve conveniently ignored our many letters, and decided to eliminate the Captcha. Yes, we have Firefox with WebVisum which provides a Captcha solving element, but this is not convenient for us IE users, and Google Chrome is completely inaccessible. We also can’t afford to pay for a Captcha solving service. Do you guys have any ideas that would help us find a solution to this ever growing problem? I am desperate like the rest of us (the blind), because the Internet is becoming a virtual no man’s land for the blind. Thank you so very much for considering my letter.”

Hi, Heather.  Thanks for the great question!

For those who don’t know (but have been annoyed by it), CAPTCHA is a system developed by web designers to prevent “bots” (automated computer services designed by thieves and bad guys) from getting a membership to a web site and then steal from or spam the site’s other users.  CAPTCHA stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”  Basically, what it does is presents a series of letters and/or numbers as an IMAGE rather than as text.  Frequently, it will have either a color gradient or dots or something else in the background to further frustrate bots, reasoning that a computer might be able to “read” text, but not text hidden in an image. 

Part of the reason that websites “ignore” users requests to discontinue using CAPTCHA is because, as of now, there is no better way to differentiate computers from human beings. 

One thing that CAPTCHA users have introduced to help the visually impaired is to have an option to have the website “read” the CAPTCHA phrase out loud.  It looks like a speaker:

My problem with this “solution” is that I have listened to some of these just out of curiosity, and I find them impossible to understand.  The reason is that, just like the images, the verbal representations are filled with distortion and background noise to make it more difficult for computers to copy.

As far as WebVisum goes, using this with the Firefox browser seems to be your best option.  As a Firefox user, I may be biased, but I find the browser, especially with the myriad of add-ons available to be the best and most user-friendly. 

As far as the cost of commercial CAPTCHA solving software goes, my research found them to be between $100 and $150.  I agree that’s a lot of money, but you could view that as an investment in your ease of using the web.  This is roughly equal to the cost of Dragon’s Naturally Speaking software.

I’m sorry that you’re having trouble using the internet, but I hope that my input helps!

Randal Schaffer