New type of audio captcha from Towson University

Today’s Baltimore Sun has an article which reports that Towson University has filed a patent for a new type of audio captcha. We’ve all encountered them and they often drive blind computer users half mad. You’re registering for a new Web site and filling out the form, entering your name, address, phone number, etc. when all of a sudden the Web page offers an image of a series of letters and numbers, presented in a somewhat distorted picture. It’s often a nonsense phrase like genwa2734 and you’re asked to enter what you see into the edit box.
This is done to prevent automated programs or scripts from doing things like creating tons of new email accounts in a matter of minutes. Even some sighted people have some difficulty with these things, which are known as captchas, but screen readers used by blind computer users, no matter how sophisticated they are, can’t “see” these images and translate them into regular text. There are some solutions to this problem. As an example, I use the free Webvisum add-on for Firefox, which decodes captchas with the press of a hotkey and places the solution into your clipboard, allowing you to press control-V to paste in the answer into the edit box. I’ve also read of another captcha solver which you have to pay for but I haven’t used this add-on.
Some Web sites are employing audio captchas, which plays an audio file where you hear words or numbers that you have to listen to and then enter into the appropriate edit box. Sometimes, these audio captchas are about as hard to hear and comprehend as the visual ones are to see. Towson’s solution is a bit different but I think that people tend to forget that audio captchas, even if they are well-designed and recorded clearly, are of no use to deaf-blind computer users who are using a Braille display to access their computer. The clearest audio recordings are of no benefit to them.
In my opinion, the best kind of captchas are randomly generated questions such as “what is 7 minus 3”, “what is the first month of the year”, “what day comes after Friday”, etc. You could have a setup which stores enough randomly generated questions so that scripts couldn’t be written to supply stock answers but, at the same time, you’d make captchas accessible to both blind as well as deaf-blind users.


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