I was just recalling a recent firsthand experience with web accessibility ignorance, and thought I’d share, to kick off 2010.
Not long ago, I was involved in a conversation about incorporating security measures to a registration process on an e-commerce website. One solution that emerged was using CAPTCHA.
For those of you not familiar with the term, CAPTCHA is a process used to protect web sites from automated agents (bots, scripts, etcetera). This is most often done through adding a step in which a user must decipher distorted or obscured characters, or solve a puzzle.
The traditional implementation of CAPTCHA has met with significant outcry from the accessibility minded. Quite simply, how can a blind or visually-impaired user be expected to discern garbled characters on the screen? In such cases, the visually disabled are simply unable to do whatever it is that the CAPTCHA stands in front of, such as registering on a site before purchasing and accessing information.
Alternatives have emerged such as providing an audio equivalent, like reCAPTCHA does.
Anyway, when CAPTCHA came up in my scenario, I quickly pointed out that, whatever solution we seek, we must ensure we’re using a security method that doesn’t render the site inoperable by the visually disabled.
One person responded by pantomiming being blind, finding himself to be hysterical in the process. Another person said — and to get the full effect, be sure to insert dripping sarcasm — “Yeah, because blind people use the Web”.
Even as I typed that, it sounded ridiculous and made up. Needless to say, I was floored by such over-the-top ignorance. I don’t expect everybody to suddenly embrace accessibility because I have, but still hoped that my insight would be taken somewhat seriously, not met with jokes and quips.
I’d like to think that such reactions are rare and will only decrease in the web industry, as accessibility becomes more and more a hot button issue. Some businesses and web services are better than others.
My response, by the way, was something to the effect of, “I imagine there were people at Target.com who made light of accessibility before the multi-million dollar lawsuit.”