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CAPTCHA doesn't work for people with visual impairments
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tstarling
Feb 3 2006, 3:40 AM
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Description

No convenient method is offered to allow blind people to submit external links to Wikimedia sites.

As per the W3C recommendation:
"An explicitly inaccessible access control mechanism should not be promoted as a
solution, especially when other systems exist that are not only more accessible,
but may be more effective, as well. It is strongly recommended that smaller
sites adopt spam filtering and/or heuristic checks in place of CAPTCHA."

Discussions and other reports about CAPTCHAs that anybody should be aware of before working on this:

Challenges:

  1. Removing captcha all-together proves that it invites too much abuse for our communities?
  2. External services like Google etc violate our privacy policies
  3. Audio captchas present a language barrier problem (next to the language script barrier of normal captchas)
  4. Writing our own solution is prohibitively expensive (involves solving an open problem in computer science) and captcha weakness for computers might make the whole thing a wasted effort pretty quickly.

Alternatives:

  1. Disable alltogher and deal with the fallout by improving abusefilters etc..
  2. Escalate to some sort of Phone number verification or phone audio message verification (privacy issues and possibly only aggravates the accessibility issue)
  3. Add message to make it clearer where to request manual account creation by existing user
  4. Make a separate 'request an account' queue for these users, for prioritised account-request processing

URL: https://www.w3.org/TR/turingtest/
See Also: T49705: "Can't see the image? Request an account" should be an optional parameter

Details

Reference
bz4845

Event Timeline

There are a very large number of changes, so older changes are hidden. Show Older Changes
CKoerner_WMF renamed this task from CAPTCHA doesn't work for blind people to CAPTCHA doesn't work for people with visual impairments.Jul 11 2019, 7:34 PM
CKoerner_WMF updated the task description. (Show Details)

I'm diving on this grenade until or unless someone else takes it over. I'm very interested in using our Captcha system for doing micro-curation tasks (both for visual and non-visual contributions), either for training machine-learning models, or for more heuristic one-off projects. I'll try to get more educated on the topic, and hopefully give more information in the coming weeks.

I am having a bit of a quandary here.

I see "I'll try to get more educated on the topic, and hopefully give more information in the coming weeks" at [ https://phabricator.wikimedia.org/T6845 ] but nothing since.

I am seeing the same thing at [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Doc_James#13_years ]: "working on it" then nothing.

The cynic in me says that if I keep patently waiting nothing will happen and after a while I will be posting a "14 years" complaint, but if I start making noise about hearing nothing I will be embarrassed to discover that someone has been furiously working on this and watch as they change the Wikimedia software in a way that solves everything -- 15 minutes after I hit send on my complaint.

I am left with these known facts:

  • For 13 years the WMF has failed to assign an employee or contractor the task of fixing this problem.
  • For 13 years the WMF has failed to budget a single dollar towards fixing this.
  • For 13 years the WMF has failed to provide an estimate of how long it is expected to take to fix this.
  • For 13 years the WMF has failed to write any requirements for fixing this. ("Requirements" is geek talk for "please define what 'done' is and how we will recognize that whoever is working on this is done".)
  • For 13 years the WMF has failed to make a plan for an independent third party (which in this case means "someone with a visual impairment accessing Wikipedia with a screen reader") to look at the results and verify whether the requirements were met.

So I ask the community: how long is a reasonable time for me to patently wait without any updates before going back to complaining about WMF inaction?

I am having a bit of a quandary here.

I see "I'll try to get more educated on the topic, and hopefully give more information in the coming weeks" at [ https://phabricator.wikimedia.org/T6845 ] but nothing since.

I am seeing the same thing at [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Doc_James#13_years ]: "working on it" then nothing.

The cynic in me says that if I keep patently waiting nothing will happen and after a while I will be posting a "14 years" complaint, but if I start making noise about hearing nothing I will be embarrassed to discover that someone has been furiously working on this and watch as they change the Wikimedia software in a way that solves everything -- 15 minutes after I hit send on my complaint.

I am left with these known facts:

  • For 13 years the WMF has failed to assign an employee or contractor the task of fixing this problem.
  • For 13 years the WMF has failed to budget a single dollar towards fixing this.
  • For 13 years the WMF has failed to provide an estimate of how long it is expected to take to fix this.
  • For 13 years the WMF has failed to write any requirements for fixing this. ("Requirements" is geek talk for "please define what 'done' is and how we will recognize that whoever is working on this is done".)
  • For 13 years the WMF has failed to make a plan for an independent third party (which in this case means "someone with a visual impairment accessing Wikipedia with a screen reader") to look at the results and verify whether the requirements were met.

So I ask the community: how long is a reasonable time for me to patently wait without any updates before going back to complaining about WMF inaction?

I mean i think you answered your own question. Some people are kind of interested and doing some initial cursorary research (at least that was my reading of Evan's comment, my apologies if i misinterpreted). I dont work for the wmf, so i dont know what is going on beside the scenes but afaict nobody has been assigned this as their primary task, nobody has put this task in their teams quarterly goals, etc. So the WMF is not working on this in any serious capacity. Not now and not for the last 13 years. Which to be clear is not in itself a criticism - there are many more bugs than resources, some bugs are going to get the short stick. I am not going to comment on whether its appropriate that this is one of the long ignored bugs.

So by all means, if you think this task is important, put political pressure on WMF to assign resources to it. But i think that political pressure should be somewhere other than the phab task to keep it clear for people interested in this problem (wmf affilated or otherwise) to discuss solutions, requirements and not the meta problem of whether or not wmf assigns its resources appropriately

Finding pictures and videos of people on the internet is pretty easy... i doubt that that will solve much unless paired with real name/post a picture of your passport type requirements, which would be pretty invasive.

Please see Development prioritization for some general info about "someone ("the WMF", you yourself, anyone else) should do something" expectations.
Please see Phabricator etiquette where to bring up meta-level discussions on priorities in general.
Thanks for your understanding.

About potential backlash on disabling CAPTCHAs: Here stewards are arguing for better CAPTCHAs because they have too many fake accounts they need to deal with.

Re: discussing solutions on this page, we have been doing that FOR THIRTEEN YEARS and blind people are still unable to access Wikipedia.

If I see no action by the WMF and no progress report from Evan by 03 February 2020 (that's 5 months from now) you can expect to see messages on various talk pages with the title "14 years". One would only hope that Evan would post a progress report here on phabricator some time in the next five months.

Re: "About potential backlash on disabling CAPTCHAs: Here stewards are arguing for better CAPTCHAs here because they have too many fake accounts they need to deal with", that's why I am not asking that CAPTCHAs be disabled. Instead I am asking that the WMF

  • Assign an employee or contractor the task of fixing this problem.
  • Budget some amount of money towards fixing this.
  • Give us at least the start of a schedule with a rough estimate of how long it is expected to take to fix this.
  • Write some sort of requirements -- however informal -- defining "done".

That being said, I consider our legal obligation to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and our ethical obligation to stop discriminating against the visually impaired to be more important than the convenience of the stewards. If the WMF decided to solve this, we won't have to choose.

that's why I am not asking that CAPTCHAs be disabled. Instead I am asking that the WMF

Its a ticket, its not all about you. Also wrong venue. Prioritization of work by WMF doesnt happen via software ticket tracker.

@Guy_Macon: Please share your personal plans for February 2020 in other venues where they are not off-topic. Again: Please see https://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Bug_management/Phabricator_etiquette if you would like to stay active in Wikimedia Phabricator. See my previous comment. Thanks for your understanding.

I formally object to Aklapper removing my comments as being "off topic". The fact that the WMF has spend 13 years not fixing this problem and that we are coming up on 14 years seems to be very much on topic. I don't see any link for accessing the edit history, so could someone please send me an email with my comments here and a record of when they were removed and by who?

I formally object to Aklapper removing my comments as being "off topic". The fact that the WMF has spend 13 years not fixing this problem and that we are coming up on 14 years seems to be very much on topic. I don't see any link for accessing the edit history, so could someone please send me an email with my comments here and a record of when they were removed and by who?

As far as I can see, none of your comment have been removed. You are not being censored.

Have you tried scrolling up and clicking the link that hides previously read comments?

I just posted the following to [ https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Talk:Wikimedia_Foundation_Board_of_Trustees ]:

13 years

On 03 February 2006, it was reported to the WMF that our CAPTCHA system discriminates against blind people. See phabricator T6845. This appears to be a direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Americans_with_Disabilities_Act_of_1990 ) and leaves Wikipedia open to the possibility of discrimination lawsuit.

In particular, National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corp ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Federation_of_the_Blind_v._Target_Corp. ) was a case where a major retailer, Target Corp., was sued because their web designers failed to design its website to enable persons with low or no vision to use it.

So why, after 13 years of inaction, do we not have a set of software requirements (including a testable definition of "done"), a schedule with milestones and updates, and budget and staffing information for solving this?

And no, I will not accept any proposed "solution" that lacks the name of an WMF employee who has been given the assignment of fixing this, a budget that says how much the WMF expects to spend on solving this, a deadline that say how long the WMF expects it to take to solve this, and a way for an independent third party to look at the results and verify whether the requirements were met.

Regarding hiring someone else to fix this, I would very much like the idea to be given careful consideration rather than being dismissed out of hand. The WMF is great at running an encyclopedia. Nobody else, anywhere on earth, even comes close. However, running an encyclopedia does not magically confer the ability to create high-quality software, and the WMF has a pretty dismal track record in this area (Examples: Visual Editor, Flow, 13 years of failing to making an obvious but boring improvement to accommodate blind people.) I realize that this will anger some people, but why should it? Olympic-level athletes don't get angry when you tell them that their athletic ability does not magically confer the ability to repair automobiles or do astronomy.

Comments from phabricator:

  • ''"This doesn't just effect addition of external links, it also prevents new users from registering, requiring them to use ACC to request an account."''
  • ''"There is no one currently assigned to this, so no one is taking it upon him to fix this at this moment. It's also not something that any team at the foundation is responsible for, so it's not likely to be prioritized from that end."''
  • ''The only thing stopping us from having an audio captcha is that nobody's put the work into implementing it yet." --Source: Chief MediaWiki developer as of 2008
  • ''"So the question is why has work not been put aside to fix an issue of recognised high importance that will, 13 years after first being raised, resolve an issue that results in us discriminating against people who are (in many jurisdictions) a legally protected minority?"''
  • Guy Macon, 08 July, 2019

I am having a bit of a quandary here.

I see "I'll try to get more educated on the topic, and hopefully give more information in the coming weeks" at [ https://phabricator.wikimedia.org/T6845 ] but nothing since.

I am seeing the same thing at [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Doc_James#13_years ]: "working on it" then nothing.

The cynic in me says that if I keep patently waiting nothing will happen and after a while I will be posting a "14 years" complaint, but if I start making noise about hearing nothing I will be embarrassed to discover that someone has been furiously working on this and watch as they change the Wikimedia software in a way that solves everything -- 15 minutes after I hit send on my complaint.

I am left with these known facts:

  • For 13 years the WMF has failed to assign an employee or contractor the task of fixing this problem.
  • For 13 years the WMF has failed to budget a single dollar towards fixing this.
  • For 13 years the WMF has failed to provide an estimate of how long it is expected to take to fix this.
  • For 13 years the WMF has failed to write any requirements for fixing this. ("Requirements" is geek talk for "please define what 'done' is and how we will recognize that whoever is working on this is done".)
  • For 13 years the WMF has failed to make a plan for an independent third party (which in this case means "someone with a visual impairment accessing Wikipedia with a screen reader") to look at the results and verify whether the requirements were met.

So I ask the community: how long is a reasonable time for me to patently wait without any updates before going back to complaining about WMF inaction?

Re: discussing solutions on this page, we have been doing that FOR THIRTEEN YEARS and blind people are still unable to access Wikipedia.

If I see no action by the WMF and no progress report from Evan by 03 February 2020 (that's 5 months from now) you can expect to see messages on various talk pages with the title "14 years". One would only hope that Evan would post a progress report here on phabricator some time in the next five months.

Re: "About potential backlash on disabling CAPTCHAs: Here stewards are arguing for better CAPTCHAs here because they have too many fake accounts they need to deal with", that's why I am not asking that CAPTCHAs be disabled. Instead I am asking that the WMF

  • Assign an employee or contractor the task of fixing this problem.
  • Budget some amount of money towards fixing this.
  • Give us at least the start of a schedule with a rough estimate of how long it is expected to take to fix this.
  • Write some sort of requirements -- however informal -- defining "done".

That being said, I consider our legal obligation to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and our ethical obligation to stop discriminating against the visually impaired to be more important than the convenience of the stewards. If the WMF decided to solve this, we won't have to choose.

I formally object to Aklapper removing my comments as being "off topic".

Please do not accuse me of things that I have not done.

The fact that the WMF has spend 13 years not fixing this problem and that we are coming up on 14 years seems to be very much on topic.

Please consider this a third and last request to read https://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Bug_management/Development_prioritization ("Why has nobody fixed this issue yet?") and https://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Bug_management/Phabricator_etiquette ("meta-level discussions on priorities in general"; "Criticize ideas, not people") if you would like to remain active in Wikimedia Phabricator. Thanks for staying on-topic and in scope.

I'm diving on this grenade until or unless someone else takes it over. I'm very interested in using our Captcha system for doing micro-curation tasks (both for visual and non-visual contributions), either for training machine-learning models, or for more heuristic one-off projects. I'll try to get more educated on the topic, and hopefully give more information in the coming weeks.

you know... it would be really slick if we could have our own "CAPTCHA" that could train ORES... Like maybe the captcha asks if edits are "good faith" or not (or something like that).

See also T158909: Automatically detect spambot registration using machine learning (like invisible reCAPTCHA) . From what I can see, the most important mechanism behind reCAPTCHA is to simply check for G$$gle cookies. We can do the same for Wikimedia sites: someone who has never visited Wiki*edia should be shown a captcha, and someone with statistically average usage should probably be allowed to skip the captcha.

Another useful approach would be to build a risk profile for each user before and after registration. For example, a string of spammy edits immediately after registration would result in manual account review or an automatic, temporary loss of editing rights.

eprodromou added a subscriber: eprodromou.

I'm no longer working on this task.

Can something please be done about this issue?
It's been 13 years since it was created and Wikimedia's captchas are still as inaccessible as ever.

Can something please be done about this issue?
It's been 13 years since it was created and Wikimedia's captchas are still as inaccessible as ever.

There have been some recent conversations at the WMF regarding this topic, discussing potential paths forward, including the implementation of existing, robust FLOSS options (there aren't many) or perhaps leveraging the services of open and privacy-conscious vendors, e.g. T250227. I'm hopeful that at the very least, some incremental improvement results from these discussions, though I'd note that this is a very complicated issue for Wikimedia in terms of both viable solutions and proper resourcing. Many businesses and orgs have implemented the industry-standard reCaptcha for some time which, while functionally a vast improvement over the existing FancyCaptcha, is a non-starter for Wikimedia due to user privacy concerns.

@sbassett Why haven't audio captchas just been used as a stop-gap measure for the largest language projects? That part just doesn't make sense to me.

In T6845#6781431, @MJL wrote:

@sbassett Why haven't audio captchas just been used as a stop-gap measure for the largest language projects? That part just doesn't make sense to me.

Without leveraging a large commercial product (reCaptcha, hCaptcha, etc.) or finding a robust FLOSS alternative (which doesn't really exist at the moment AFAIK), this would likely be a large and complex project, especially given the existing issues around prioritization and ownership of Wikimedia's current captcha system at the WMF. I don't really mean this as an excuse, but more as a qualifying statement on the reality of the current situation.

In T6845#6781431, @MJL wrote:

@sbassett Why haven't audio captchas just been used as a stop-gap measure for the largest language projects? That part just doesn't make sense to me.

Without leveraging a large commercial product (reCaptcha, hCaptcha, etc.) or finding a robust FLOSS alternative (which doesn't really exist at the moment AFAIK), this would likely be a large and complex project, especially given the existing issues around prioritization and ownership of Wikimedia's current captcha system at the WMF. I don't really mean this as an excuse, but more as a qualifying statement on the reality of the current situation.

I'm talking about the line included in challenges:

  • "Audio captchas present a language barrier problem (next to the language script barrier of normal captchas)"

It seems to imply audio captchas are an option but have been dismissed for this reason. If that's the case, could we not just implement them as a stop-gap measure?

Saying "can we not just" is not helpful.

In T6845#6811866, @MJL wrote:

I'm talking about the line included in challenges:

  • "Audio captchas present a language barrier problem (next to the language script barrier of normal captchas)"

It seems to imply audio captchas are an option but have been dismissed for this reason. If that's the case, could we not just implement them as a stop-gap measure?

There are definitely a few more issues with audio captchas beyond language barriers (which are significant), including their actual efficacy at blocking malicious traffic. This is why service providers such as hCaptcha have actually moved away from this option in favor of other approaches to captcha accessibility. And as I believe @Reedy implied above, implementing audio captchas for Wikimedia production isn't really something that can be completed in week or so - it would be a large effort that likely is not the best solution for improved accessibility at this time.

Silly idea: volunteer-staffed (or contractor-staffed?) phone bank where you call them with your desired username. How many of these do we get, anyway? (Or an estimate, I guess, since by definition we wouldn't know.)

Could the signal vs noise ratio be decreased on this task, please? Thanks.

DrMel raised the priority of this task from Medium to High.May 14 2021, 8:15 PM
DrMel awarded a token.
DrMel added a subscriber: DrMel.

Yes please. We have user group WikiBlind.org connected with fabulous talented problem solvers in Blind and Visually Impaired communities.

Priority was at Medium. I’m new here but took the Bold move of switching it to high and can support/justify as needed. I’ll be at next weekends Hackathon seeking anyone who can help fix this massive gap in inclusivity.

Please message me if this is something you care about. Even if you have very little time, I’d be so grateful to get your perspectives. Dr.Mel.Ganus@gmail.com

I have corrected the priority to high. Obviously something that excludes such a large group of people needs to be fixed as a matter of priority. It shouldn’t be all that difficult to do a workaround such as MzMcbride suggested. If everyone who verifies an email address was exempted from such capchas then not only do we solve a major disability barrier, we also fix a problem that is a barrier for all new Wikipedians.

In T6845#4856949, @jrbs wrote:

I have corrected the priority to high. Obviously something that excludes such a large group of people needs to be fixed as a matter of priority. It shouldn’t be all that difficult to do a workaround such as MzMcbride suggested. If everyone who verifies an email address was exempted from such capchas then not only do we solve a major disability barrier, we also fix a problem that is a barrier for all new Wikipedians.

Please note that "priority" on Phabricator does not mean "importance", it just reflects how tasks are being handled by the teams in question. See this for more information: https://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Phabricator/Project_management#Priority_levels

As such, I'm lowering this back to Normal, since no work has been committed for this. While I agree this is an important task to work on, marking this as "high" is misleading as it implies work has been put aside for it, which it has not.

Just read this comment. We can address the “work put aside for this” so it earns the High Importance tag.

So the question is why has work not been put aside to fix an issue of recognised high importance that will, 13 years after first being raised, resolve an issue that results in us discriminating against people who are (in many jurisdictions) a legally protected minority?

Because it basically involves solving an open problem in computer science which despite more than 13 years of people attempting to solve it, there aren't really any good solutions to.

The blind community has very savvy experts who can help. It might not have been solved by the sighted communities yet but there are plenty of motivated people ready to help.

Aklapper lowered the priority of this task from High to Medium.May 14 2021, 8:34 PM

@DrMel: You are welcome to increase priority and set yourself as task assignee if you plan to work on fixing this, as the Priority field summarizes and reflects reality and does not cause it. If you're interested in contributing code to fix this, please see How_to_become_a_MediaWiki_hacker - thanks in advance for your help.

DrMel raised the priority of this task from Medium to High.

@DrMel: You are welcome to increase priority and set yourself as task assignee if you plan to work on fixing this, as the Priority field summarizes and reflects reality and does not cause it. If you're interested in contributing code to fix this, please see How_to_become_a_MediaWiki_hacker - thanks in advance for your help.

I’m all in! Happy to take the lead on the problem solving and eager to find help. Raised priority back to High per your comments above.

@DrMel: Could you elaborate on your plans to go forward, code-wise?

@DrMel: Could you elaborate on your plans to go forward, code-wise?

New here so not sure how to answer sufficiently. If someone who has been here longer can do a coaching conversation with me, I’ll be able to give you a real answer.

Simplest answer currently: I’m coFounder and organizer of WikiBlind and we have members around the world with extensive experience across domains. But I don’t know who inside this sighted wiki programmers world is currently concerned enough to help with the problem solving. I can facilitate connecting the dots and getting a sprint+ going to make some sort of headway on this critical problem. Everyone who knows about it is very frustrated it has not been worth solving yet. We’ve got Human Resources available. This shouldn’t be on a backburner.

Anyone here, please let me know if you can help me understand how best to contribute my time/skills? I was a programmer long ago. Worked in Microsoft in 80s. Now much more organizer and problem solver.

Silly idea: volunteer-staffed (or contractor-staffed?) phone bank where you call them with your desired username. How many of these do we get, anyway? (Or an estimate, I guess, since by definition we wouldn't know.)

WikiBlind.org now has admins who can create accounts for anyone who cannot create their own. Need to make alternate signup options “visibly” available in account creation / Captcha point. e.g. “Click here if you are unable to complete this account creation page.” which takes people to page with list of other options.

Silly idea: volunteer-staffed (or contractor-staffed?) phone bank where you call them with your desired username. How many of these do we get, anyway? (Or an estimate, I guess, since by definition we wouldn't know.)

WikiBlind.org now has admins who can create accounts for anyone who cannot create their own. Need to make alternate signup options “visibly” available in account creation / Captcha point. e.g. “Click here if you are unable to complete this account creation page.” which takes people to page with list of other options.

enwiki, for example has https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Request_an_account. But we don't link it on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:CreateAccount

Newbie Hackathon Qs: Could someone here let me/us know:

who are the current admins/decision makers for proposed changes to the main account creation pages?

and/or
What’s the process for proposing changes?

Newbie Hackathon Qs: Could someone here let me/us know:

who are the current admins/decision makers for proposed changes to the main account creation pages?

and/or
What’s the process for proposing changes?

The process for proposing changes appears to be:

  • In February of 2006, report on Phabricator that our CAPTCHA system discriminates against blind people.
  • Watch as nothing gets done about the problem for the next fifteen years.

I'm just saying.

@Guy_Macon: If you are not interested in bringing this ticket forward but only would like to share some (understandable) frustration, then I politely suggest that you spend your time somewhere else. Thanks for your understanding.

I do not think that it is possible for anyone to be more " interested in bringing this ticket forward" than I have been.

I work with adaptive technology for the blind and have seen first hand the struggles users who use text-to-speach browsers have with this.

I have followed every suggestion by anyone who has suggested a way to " bring this ticket forward". Nothing has worked.

I have brought this up in every venue that anyone has suggested. No result.

I have contacted legal, multiple CEOs. the board, several individual board members and multiple department heads. Other foundation employees have reached out to me, tried to help, and failed..

I have talked about this on various pages, both foundation and English Wikipedia, but the problem remains.

If you have a specific suggestion that you believe will result in the foundation assigning a budget and personnel to fixing this, let me know and I will follow that suggestion as well.

But if your only advice is "shut up and allow the illegal discrimination against the handicapped to continue for another fifteen years", then I refer you to the reply given in the case Arkell v. Pressdram.

For me, the urgency was reduced somewhat when I tested a screen reader with a captcha-breaking browser extension, which I found very easily. I used this one but there are plenty of others around. I think the experience with that browser extension installed was actually better than what sighted people experience. It was very fast, and there was no need to retype the solution. A captcha which can be trivially broken with OCR is probably better for accessibility than an audio captcha (an often suggested alternative).

I've always said that we should just disable the captcha and deal with the consequences, and I've tried to demonstrate that our captcha provides only token protection against spam. The main obstacle to that is the Wikipedia community which seems to have a lot more faith in the captcha than I do.