How do we deal with a CAPTCHA: Making authentication accessible for everyone.



CAPTCHA (completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart), is used to authenticate genuine users from others who have NOT SO GOOD intentions. The process of authenticating a person online need not rely on CAPTCHA though, as other methods of authentication can be used when proving yourself online. The problem with CAPTCHA is that it causes difficulties when users of assistive technology try to use it, and in the most inaccessible versions, can prevent users from completing the verification process. What follows is an example of the barriers faced by users of assistive technology when they encounter a CAPTCHA, and some alternatives to consider when implementing security on a website.

The need for authentication and the need for accessibility

Authentication of a user, and having secure channels when submitting a form is crucial when browsing the web. Not only for the use of contact forms when identifying real users from spam, but also for secure online transactions or account creation. When using assistive technology though, an added problem occurs; the one of accessibility to the CAPTCHA. There are many different methods of CAPTCHA from different organisations, and assistive technology can be affected depending on the type of CAPTCHA being used. It’s also important to point out that CAPTCHA can be displayed differently depending on the operating system (OS) being used, such as Windows verses Mac or iOS.

If completing an audio CAPTCHA on Windows for example, the ‘play’ button for the audio would do as expected assuming that all is working as it should be. On iOS however, the audio CAPTCHA prompts users to download an MP3 file meaning that users will have to remember the content of the audio, and switch to the required form to input the content to pass verification. While some audio is accessible though, a problem can occur if the files are heavily processed because it is difficult to pick out the correct letters or numbers if the audio is heavily distorted. While this is done to prevent bots from interpreting the information, an additional barrier is identified if users are not able to interpret the content clearly.

Image CAPTCHA which require users to select specific images and not others may work for users who have good vision, but will prevent users who have little or no vision from completing the verification process. A CAPTCHA which requires users to make a maths calculation, or select the correct response to a question will work for some users, but may cause problems for users who have a learning difficulty.

Implementing an accessible alternative will not only maintain security, but will also ensure that users of assistive technology are not excluded from the verification process. Some good alternatives such as ticking a box to indicate that it is a human and not a robot completing the form is one option. Another alternative would be to implement honeypot, which has a hidden form field which if filled in, will stop the submission. As long as the field is clearly labelled to warn screen reader users that it should not be filled in, this is a suitable alternative. While other methods of biometric authentication are being explored, one of the best methods would be 2-factor authentication, where the user enters an email address or mobile number, and receives a code to enter in to the form to verify their information. Each method has good and bad points, such as the 2-factor method would require the user to have immediate access to their email account or good phone signal.

Further information

For more information about good CAPTCHA and some alternatives, check out: Some CAPTCHA alternatives (external link.)

An accessibility wish list: Getting ready for a smarter future.


Before smart devices became accessible, any one with a disability would need to purchase a device capable of running third-party assistive technology, or would need to purchase a specific device which met their requirements by performing a function, such as a hearing-aid compatible phone. Now that many devices include access features built in, and wearable technology becomes a part of our daily routine, smart homes are being built to make use of such technology.

While smart home technology started with an alarm to alert a carer or the authorities if a person needed assistance, other applications and devices have been developed to make it easier to control various items in a smart home. From lighting to doorbells, and security to heating, there is often an app which can be used via a smart phone or tablet to control the various items in the home. While some apps may be accessible, all apps need to be coded to ensure that all users can control their home from their required device. I admit at this point that I have not at the time of writing used anything like a Wi-Fi enabled heating, lighting or security system, however my list of ideas to develop a fully accessible option will hopefully be realised in the near future.

As a blind user of iOS, I am familiar with the specific gestures which can be used to control an iPhone using Voiceover, the built in screen reader for apple products. Similar gestures can also be used to access android devices. If a smart home is going to be truly accessible, apps across multiple platforms will need to have clearly labelled items, and respond to the various touch gestures which are allowed through the use of assistive technology. Of course various apps should include as many access implementations for as many users as possible, including different font and contrast options for users who have some useful vision, assistive touch and switch access for users who Have limited mobility or a learning difficulty, and many other access requirements which are not covered in this post, but equally as important. To make things easy to access and use though, keeping touch screen gestures the same across devices, and adaptive keypad functions available for persons who are unable to use a touch screen would enable all users to be able to take advantage of a smart home.

To ensure the best experience possible, the following links will help you: Developing Android apps for accessibility (external link). Developing accessible iOS apps (external link).

Become accessible using some simple solutions

07/04/2017 written by Mike Taylor

Accessibility is often thought to be a costly process, and while some features can be complex, we have some top tips to get the process moving with minimum cost to you.

Consider accessibility as early as possible during a build or an update

It’s important to include accessibility as early as possible when building an app, website, or any online content or update. The earlier the build is evaluated and any problem areas identified, the earlier a fix can be implemented and in many cases an easier resolution be found, which works for everyone. It’s something we say a lot, but it’s very true; it’s much easier to include accessibility at the start, rather than retro-fit later. That said, it’s never too late to include accessibility, and it’s certainly better to do it than not at all.

Include a clear tab order and focus highlighting when tabbing through the page

For users who can only use a keyboard a clear and logical tab order is required for consistent and predictable navigation, and focus highlighting should be equally consistent while tabbing through the page. Implementing both solutions will enable users to navigate through the page easily, while giving focus to each element (like a link for example). The lack of this functionality means that users can be confused if focus disappears completely, or skips passed items such as a form or past a frame.

Include a clear and logical headings structure

Including a clear and logical headings structure, will make it easier for all users to navigate and understand the page content. The main content heading should be coded as a level 1 mark-up, and sub-sections would need a level 2, with smaller sections as a level 3 respectively. Not including headings will make it difficult for blind computer users who rely on screen reading software to navigate the content section-by-section. Headings enable users to move around the page easier, particularly if using screen reading software.

Avoid the use of fast blinking images, and items which move around the screen

If an item blinks at a high speed, and lasts for more than 5 seconds, it is important to provide a method of stopping the item easily. Such content can be distracting for users who have learning difficulties or worse for those with photo sensitive epilepsy. Avoiding the use of this content will not only make navigating easier, but potentially also reducing the possibility of illness as a result.

Include clear form labelling and clear error handling

When users are required to select an option, or type information in to a form, clear labelling for all items will make completing this both usable and very accessible. Including a clear error handling for forms which are not completed correctly, as well as providing a prompt for all compulsory form items, will make accessing the content easier for all user groups.

Include a clear alternative text for graphics which convey specific information

Include clear alternative text for graphics which convey specific information such as special offers, or other information which direct users to specific content. If graphics are used purely for decoration, hiding the items from screen reader users with a null alt attribute will cause less confusion for blind users and maintain the visual effect for other users moving forward.

Include clear link text and a skip link

Including a clear link text to indicate what will happen when a link is selected, such as ‘click here to read our top accessibility tips’ rather than ‘click here’, makes all the difference when navigating content. A skip link is used by those who only use keyboard to move to the main content section of the page, which is helpful in many aspects of navigation. For users of desktop or laptop devices a skip link reduces the amount of tabbing which is required to move to the main content of the page; while on mobile, less scrolling is required for users, particularly user groups who have limited mobility or those using the screen reading software.

Introducing WCAG 2.1.

22/03/2017 written by Mike Taylor


Anyone with an interest in the web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG,) will no doubt be aware of WCAG 2.1. Version 2.1 is open for feedback and suggestions until 31/03/2017, and has been published to take in to consideration the increase of mobile devices, and the accessibility of such devices using assistive technology.

Most of us will now use a smart phone, or have a portable device with internet capability, and more devices are thankfully now being shipped with accessible solutions built in to their respective operating systems. As a result, it’s vital that online content and user interfaces among other things are as accessible as possible to as many user groups as possible. While still in the early stages, it’s great to know that WCAG is moving to take in to account the inclusion of mobile and tablet devices. To read more about WCAG2.1 and to add comments and suggestions before March 31st, visit: The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 pages.

Education and access – a powerful combination

16/12/2016 posted by Mike Taylor


Dr Scott Hollier specialises in the field of digital accessibility and is the author of the book ‘Outrunning the Night: a life journey of disability, determination and joy’. With a Ph.D. in Internet Studies and project management experience across the not-for-profit, corporate and government sectors, Scott is an internationally-recognised researcher and speaker.

Dr Scott Hollier – Digital access specialist, author & Adjunct Senior Lecturer at Edith Cowan University

A few weeks ago I launched my memoir, titled ‘Outrunning the Night: a life journey of disability, determination and joy’, in my home city of Perth, Western Australia. It was a great event with family, friends, work colleagues past and present and disability groups all coming along to provide support which meant a lot. The night was great fun with the only complaint being that the fantastic pizza on offer ran out just a little too quickly for some.

Since the launch and some of the subsequent media interviews around the book, I’ve been reflecting a bit on just how fortunate my life has been. For many people looking from the outside, my life probably doesn’t’ seem that fortunate as I’m legally blind with the degenerative eye condition Retinitis Pigmentosa, and at this point of my life now aged 41 I’ve lost most of my sight. It’s true that things are difficult at times and there are many challenges that relate to having a disability, but there’s also lots to celebrate and much of that happiness stems from two key things established when I was young; the persuit of education and the benefits of accessible mainstream technologies.

I was diagnosed with my eye condition just after I started primary school, and as a father now I can appreciate just how hard the news must have been for my parents. The specialist indicated that I’d probably lose my sight quickly, I’d need to go to a special school and my career options were almost non-existent. While this seems harsh today, it was basically a reflection of Australia’s legislative frameworks at the time as legislation relating to disabilities services didn’t come in until 1986 and disability discrimination laws weren’t established until 1992, so the discussion about education and a career path was largely based on mainstream thinking at the time.

Fortunately my parents being primary school teachers wanted a second opinion, and happily that second opinion was a bit more enlightened. As a result I continued mainstream schooling, completed high school, studied Computer Science at university and went on to complete a number of other degrees including a Master of Management and a PhD in internet-related studies. It wasn’t a journey I took alone though – as I note in my book, there were key people along the way and if it wasn’t for their intervention in caring enough to support my education, its likely none of the above would have been completed successfully and this really highlights just how important it is to have good support around you and organisations that champion the disability cause.

My interest in technology also stemmed from the support of others around me. In the early 1980s I lived in a small country town for four years due to my parents working at a school in the Western Australian outback, and with only one TV channel and one radio station my favourite entertainment choice was watching the bigger kids play arcade games at the local café. As a small child with no money, I dreamed of the chance to play those games, and thanks to my parents the dream came true – the ColecoVision TV game console arrived, a shared Christmas present with my sister which featured Donkey Kong as the pack-in game, and a car racing game Turbo. My passion for computer games, and computers more broadly, grew from there, with a Commodore computer becoming my prized possession in high school for doing homework, entertainment and experimenting with programming. It wasn’t until I started university though when I fully appreciated the potential of how the humble personal computer, and later the internet, could revolutionise the opportunities for people with disabilities in terms of participation and independence.

My first introduction to the Internet was in 1993 when the Internet was largely text-based and the Web was in its infancy. One of the things I really enjoyed doing was reading the comp.sys.cbm newsgroup where people were posting discussions relating to Commodore computers. While my trusty high school computer companion had since been retired due to using a PC at university, I was still interested in following the discussion. One discussion that caught my eye was a post from a person asking if it was possible to get a Commodore 64 on the Internet. As I mention in the book: …this post led to a few responses, most of which were either critical of the author for making the ridiculous suggestion that a computer from 1982 could be put online, or from others viewing it as a deliberate attempt to ‘flame’ the group. After a few posts, though, someone posted code in BASIC that would create a TCP/IP stack, and various primitive connectivity options to get it online. It was at this point that it dawned on me that the power of the Internet was not just about information, but collaboration – it was a place where people with similar interests could come together and pursue ideas. It occurred to me that if people from around the world could come together to get a computer from 1982 on the Internet, imagine the possibilities if similar efforts were put into using technologies to support people with disabilities.

Fast forward to today, and that dream of the world coming together to support people with disabilities has largely come true. Even just 10 years ago it seemed virtually impossible that assistive technologies such as a screen reader could just be a part of our everyday devices, the idea that a blind person could effectively use a touch screen seemed ludicrous and the idea that videos could virtually caption themselves using automated speech existed only in science fiction. While not all of these things have been perfected (especially automated captions) it’s important to consider that the provision of accessibility in mainstream devices, the ongoing development of web accessibility standards by organisations such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to make sure these technologies work and the massive global focus on supporting people with disabilities highlights that as a person with a disability there are opportunities today that even a few years ago would have seemed like a distant dream.

However, it’s important to remember that among the fantastic consumer products that are providing both choice and affordable technologies, not to forget about the importance of education. At the end of the day, having our modern tools becoming more accessible is wonderful, but ultimately they are just tools. To take my home country of Australia as an example, there is currently 59% unemployment among people who are blind or vision impaired, and when you look at the statistics in relation to educational opportunities there is a very notable correlation between who struggle to find employment and people who have not been fortunate to have educational opportunities. The correlation is comparable across other disability groups. To make the great technological benefits work for us, we need to learn how to use them in an area where we have the passion and skills to make the most of them and for this we need to always consider the pursuit of education. Importantly, education doesn’t have to be in a tertiary setting, or even specifically to find a job; my first degree featured a major in Computer Science and a minor in Creative Writing, an odd combination forged by the fact that I struggled with maths and had a very supportive course controller who provided me with the opportunity to take out the maths part of my degree and put in something else instead. While most of my friends were sceptical about how Creative Writing would ever be relevant, as I’ve moved through my career it became a great basis for technical writing and in turn has been invaluable in writing the book. I’m a great believer that no knowledge is wasted knowledge, so the combination of striving to learn more, combined with the amazing technologies rapidly evolving round us, makes for an exciting road ahead for all people with disabilities. If you are currently wrestling with diffiuclt decisions about your future, I would encourage you to embrace both education and accessibility technologies as a great combination for the road ahead.

Before wrapping up this post I’d just like to thank DAC for the opportunity to share this information. DAC are an important part of that global tapestry of accessibility work going on in the online community and see the benefits of education and technology first-hand through their specialist staff. Everyone’s work in this space makes a significant and profound difference to the lives of people with disabilities and I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts on this website.

If you would like to read more about my thought sin this area, you can find out more about my book at Outrunning the Night (external link) including links to purchasing it through as a paperback or Kindle e-book.