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Security versus accessibility should not be a battle, they should both win. This is not the case when trying to set up a Froogle merchant account. Go to Google, click on Froogle, then information for merchants and finally get started. You are presented with a standard form to fill in. The form looks OK (even if it fails the HTML validator) and is well laid out, until you come to the word verification section.
Google, like many other sites, including this site, want to ensure that there is a real person filling in this form, sitting at a real terminal, and not some automated robot with some undesirable intentions. So the form includes a CAPTCHA image such as the following:
with some letters included in it that can be read by anyone with reasonably good eyesight. A robot cannot see or read these so if the user can type them into an input field Google can be certain that there is a person typing them in and not a robot. This check is essential to Google otherwise they could be flooded with spurious and malevolent attacks.
However the problem is that if the robot cannot read the image nor can a screen reader and therefore anyone with a visual impairment will not be able to complete the form.
Google has recognised that this is a problem morally, financially and legally and have put a little wheelchair sign (not the most appropriate sign for a specifically visual impairment problem) by the side of it. Clicking on the wheelchair pops-up a new window without telling you that it is going to do that (also not good accessible design). The pop-up asks you to click for more information and there you are told to send your email address so they can provide you with an alternative method of verification. At this point some people will give up and not bother to send the email. Others will send the email but probably never try and go through the process. Even those who do persevere will do so grudgingly and with a continuing bad taste in their mouth about Google (see the petition at www.blindwebaccess.com ).
All of this is unnecessary, as IT-A and IT-D have proved, with the help of the Bloor Research Accessibility Practice. Go to the bottom of this article and click on ‘post comment’. In the form you will see a similar image with characters in it. The difference is if you click on the image a window will open up (you will be told that is going to happen) and then it will play a wav file that reads out the characters (so the above would say Lima-Indigo-Tango-Uniform-Alpha-Lima-Indigo). One of our blind users has tried this out and said ‘it is very good’.
Our web team deserves a big round of applause for setting this up. Now all we have to do is to shame Google into fixing their site.