Social Enterprise

Lack of accessibility should kill CAPTCHAs, but where's the replacement?

Several Australian consumer groups have combined to call for an end to CAPTCHAs across the web.

CAPTCHAs, the supposed automated submission deterrence device at the bottom of forms, is a necessary evil to prevent a flood of spam from ruining the internet, isn't it?

Not so, says a group of Australian consumer groups that regards them as little better than roadblocks to hundreds of thousands of vision-impaired users whose screen readers are unable to deal with them.

Blind Citizens Australia, Media Access Australia, Able Australia, the Australian Deafblind Council, and the  Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) are calling on "organisations big and small to phase out the use of CAPTCHA".

"My experience with audio CAPTCHA has been almost as inaccessible as visual CAPTCHA – I must have listened to the Skype audio CAPTCHA 20 times before I gave up and asked my sighted friend to set up my account," said ACCAN disability policy advisor Wayne Hawkins, who is blind.

It's a fair point. Head over to the ReCAPTCHA example page and listen to the audio version of a CAPTCHA; it is a horrible experience.

So step one in the plan put forward by the group is to remove CAPTCHAs, but what would they be replaced with?

On the alternatives front, the W3C has a number of proposals, but there are not many on that list that appear workable, or do not hinder another section of the online population.

What we have, then, is a three-stage process. The first is to end the use of CAPTCHAs (there's been a petition created for such an end), someone creates a fantastic replacement, the internet universally adopts it, and the world becomes a better place.

It's the lack of a decent replacement that, despite the best intentions of the group, means we will be saddled with the impact of poorly executed and illegible CAPTCHAs for years to come.

The whole situation reminds me of that Churchillian quote: "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried."

Do you think that there is a CAPTCHA replacement waiting to solve the spam issue on the internet? Let's us know your thoughts in the comments below.


Some would say that it is a long way from software engineering to journalism, others would correctly argue that it is a mere 10 metres according to the floor plan.During his first five years with CBS Interactive, Chris started his journalistic advent...

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