CAPTCHAs, in which a user must identify the letters in a distorted image, are commonly used to block automated bots from grabbing up all the tickets for an event, signing up for thousands of email addresses in a short period of time or unfairly swaying the results of an online poll. They have drawn criticism from advocacy organizations for the blind for being too difficult to use, but last month,
With Towson's SoundsRight CAPTCHA, users listen to a series of 10 random sounds and are asked to press the computer's space bar each time they hear a certain noise -- a dog barking, a horse neighing -- among the other sounds. The developers say it is superior to
"Blind people are capable of doing everything that a visual person can on the Internet," said
"Some people are unaware that blind people can use the Internet," Lazar added.
The SoundsRight CAPTCHA is still in a "beta" version, Lazar said, and the developers are hoping a real-world rollout will help identify any necessary tweaks.
The Towson researchers worked closely on testing with the
A sighted person could help a blind user with the visual CAPTCHAs, she said, but the blind want to be independent on the Internet. Further, since many CAPTCHAs are on web pages that ask for personal financial information, she has concerns about privacy.
"The Internet is such an important and integral part of our daily lives now," Taylor said. "Just think of how many hours you spend on the web as a sighted individual. Would you really want to have someone with you all that time?"
CAPTCHA, which stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart, was introduced as a concept by computer scientist Alan Turing in 1950. The term was coined in 2000 by researchers at
The CAPTCHAs protect from automated hacking programs that can also leave spam comments on blogs, attack protected passwords and send junk email.
The SoundsRight CAPTCHA is just as secure as the traditional visual CAPTCHAs, he said. Sighted users can use the audio CAPTCHA as well, or a Web page could give the option of either a visual CAPTCHA or the SoundsRight CAPTCHA, he said. The only potential downside to the technology is that it takes about 30 to 40 seconds to complete, versus less than 10 seconds for a visual CAPTCHA, Brooks said.
"A lot of people don't have that kind of patience," he said.
The Towson CAPTCHA project was the brainchild of then-undergraduate student
"We've always done the evaluation with blind users at every step," Lazar said. "This was research that was done because blind users were telling us this was important."
The project was partially supported with a
The SoundsRight CAPTCHA is in use on the
"We are all one step away from a sudden disability, so why not make the Internet an inclusive place for everybody?" Taylor said.
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