Waspish Wednesday: Dear Fellow Bloggers, about CAPTCHA…

Last week I started my Waspish Wednesday series where I post something relatively short that I am kinda pissy about, usually something I’d like people to change.

This week’s topic is a phenomenon that has bothered me for a long time, but which reached a tipping point this week, due to Blogging Against Disablism Day (which is awesome, so please go read the posts!).

Also, I will be hosting the Disability Blog Carnival in September, and I want to “put it out there” before then.

I have been surprised and disappointed, when I comment at other disabled bloggers’ sites, that I have to go through CAPTCHA (Word Verification) in order to post a comment. This includes a lot of disability-rights-aware folks, such as people who participate in the Disability Blog Carnival and the BADD blogswarm.

What I have noticed is that (and this is a generalization, please note, not true of all, by any means), is that many bloggers who are blind do not have CAPTCHA, whereas many bloggers who have other disabilities (such as mobility impairments, chronic illness, mental illness, etc.), do. That suggests that in most cases, people for whom CAPTCHA is a barrier are aware of the problem, and don’t use it, and that people for whom CAPTCHA is not a barrier are not aware of the problem. I hate to see our community divided up like that!

I think I have been particularly surprised by the CAPTCHAs everywhere because I think we haven’t had a single blogger for the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival use it since the first edition. (The third ADBC just went up last night! Check it out!) After that, L-squared commented on it, and we raised awareness, and everyone has been so great about getting rid of it!

Here’s the issue: CAPTCHA makes commenting very difficult or impossible for many people with disabilities. Disabilities that might interfere with using CAPTCHA include (but are not limited to) blindness, deaf-blindness, and cognitive and neurological disabilities of many varieties.

**December 2011 Update! I have a short, new post up about CAPTCHA because Blogger has a new version, apparently, which makes it harder to get rid of this “feature.” However, it’s still possible to do, and detailed instructions are included in that post and in its comment section. I also bear witness, now that I have a Blogger blog, that spam is totally not a problem without “word verification,” so issue #2 below really should not be an issue.**

I suspect that people who have CAPTCHA fall into one of three groups:

  1. They don’t realize it’s a problem (and may not even know they have it) and/or don’t know how to get rid of it.
  2. They know it’s a problem, but because of their own needs (e.g., fatigue, pain, limited keyboarding ability, cognitive issues, etc.), they can’t deal with moderating every comment that comes through.
  3. They don’t give a crap that their comments are not accessible to people with disabilities.

If you’re in category #3, you’re probably not reading my blog! But, if you are, and you have no interest in making your comments accessible, then you deserve not to get comments, so phooey on you.

Now, on to what I think is the majority of people, categories 1 and 2.

First, category 1.

* * *

Dear Fellow Bloggers Who Don’t Realize Word Verification Is a Problem,

The problem is that many people with blindness or other disabilities have trouble “deciphering” the “word,” and when they try to play the audio CAPTCHA, it is often completely impossible to understand! (Until Google made CAPTCHA easier, I had a lot of trouble with it, myself — keeping in mind that I am sighted and hearing — and I’d try the visual over and over until I got it right or gave up, and I was never able to understand the audio. It seemed like a cruel joke!) If a reader is deaf-blind or has low-vision and auditory-processing issues, well, forget it! Thus, this feature pisses a lot of people off.

Wouldn’t you like to get more comments? More readers? Wouldn’t you like to contribute to greater access in the world?

I knew you would!

To get rid of this feature (which I think Blogger sets up automatically, so you might not even be aware of it), L-squared told me this is how you fix it: “On the Settings tab, click on the Comments section and then scroll down the page and click the NO option for Word Verification.” Or, you can go to this page on Blogger Help, which walks you through it.

Thank you so very much for making the world a more accessible place! >MWAH!< (That’s me throwing you kisses.) May you be rewarded with many wonderful comments!

* * *

Now, you Category 2 people.

Dear Bloggers Who Are Dealing with Your Own Disabilities and Can’t Handle Eliminating CAPTCHA,

Doesn’t it suck when disabilities conflict? I feel your pain. This happens in my own household on a frequent basis. In fact, many of my own disabilities conflict with each other! It’s hard when you want to be an ally, but your own needs make that difficult.

I admit, I did not realize how difficult it could be not to have some screening system for comments until I got my new WordPress blog (.org as opposed to this one, which is .com), which does not seem to just file the spam in a spam folder, like regular WordPress does. I get about 20 spam comments a day that I have to moderate. Augh!

So, if you want to keep Word Verification, but you still want to provide comment access to people who cannot use Word Verification, here is what I suggest:

Put a note somewhere obvious on your blog, such as on your menu, or a note at the bottom of every post, or a sticky at the top of your blog or something, that says, “I use Word Verification (CAPTCHA) because it’s too difficult for me to moderate all comments. However, I value your input! If you would like to comment and cannot use CAPTCHA, please send your comments to me at blogname [at] isp [dot] com or use this contact form” (and link to your contact form).

It doesn’t have to be that, exactly. Just let people know that you’re aware it’s an issue, and provide them another route. That would be stupendous, and Barnum and I both send you kisses! (Unless you’re not into that kind of thing, in which case we send you distant, cheery waves. Yes, he can do an excellent paw wave. I should put up a video.)

* * *

Oh, and here’s why I am finally writing this post now, even though I’ve been aware of the problem for a long time: So many of the BADD posts (most of them, I’d say), require Word Verification to comment. Plus, I noticed that very few of my favorite bloggers — people who participate in the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival — participated in BADD 2011, which I thought was a shame. I can’t help but wonder if it’s because so many BADD bloggers have CAPTCHA that it just felt like a really painful irony — blogging about ableism and using an ableist feature in your blog!

It’s never too late to try to fix something (just ask Barnum — ba-dump-bump! — he is now out of his E-collar). Please, my fellow bloggers (whether or NOT you have a disability!), make commenting accessible!

Thank you very much!

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum SDiT?

P.S. I forgot a letter!

Dear Bloggers Who Have Already Eliminated Word Verification from Your Blogs,

You are helping to make the blogosphere a better and more accessible place.

You totally rock! Thank you!

24 Responses to “Waspish Wednesday: Dear Fellow Bloggers, about CAPTCHA…”

  1. 1 Cyndi May 4, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Hey Sharon, why oh why are you using WordPress without the Akismet plugin? It’s standard on WP installs these days or you can download it separately. Probably it’s already installed and just needs to be activated. Yes, you need a free key from the programmer, but that doesn’t take long.

    Your 140 spam mails a week will drop to one or two. If that.

  2. 2 Sharon Wachsler May 4, 2011 at 6:03 pm


    Akismet is automatic with this free version of WP. With the site I pay for (aftergadget.com), it did not come with it automatically, nor do a lot of other features, like stats. It’s been a very long, slow process with lots of technical problems to get the other blog running, and I am not a technical person, and I have a fatiguing illness and cognitive impairment that also slow things down.

    If you are offering to help me, I am more than open to it. And by help, I mean providing simple, clear, easy-to-follow instructions, presented in a gentle, patient manner.

  3. 3 Ashley May 4, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    I’m glad you posted this when you did! I just had another blogger ask me how to change the CAPTCHA setting and I couldn’t for the life of me figure it out. I hate CAPTCHAs because my brain doesn’t always tell me hands to type he right thing. If I think the CAPTCHA sound similar to a word, I often unknowingly type that word or miss letter. I usually wind up asking my family to do it for me if I really want to comment

  4. 4 Cyndy Otty May 4, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Sharon, you may want to install the Jetpack plugin. It has a lot of the common features of WP.com included. I would also suggest adding Bad Behavior (along with or without Akismet). Great for spam blocking.

    As a note, I’ve been using WordPress since 2004 and was a beta tester for WP.com, so feel free to email me privately if you ever have questions or need some coding help. If I can’t answer it, I’m sure I can pester someone who does. 😉

  5. 5 Cyndi May 4, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    Assuming your WP works the same as mine, which I don’t know is the case (I have version 3.1.1 (about to upgrade to 3.1.2))…

    1) Log in to your admin account (dashboard).

    2) Go to Plugins (click on left hand menu).

    3) Then go to “add new” in the Plugins submenu (left side).

    4) In the search box, enter “akismet” and start the search.

    5) This will bring up several choices. The first one, just plain Akismet, is the one you want. Click on “install now.”

    6) After it installs, click on “activate plugin.”

    7) Since mine was set up years ago, I am not certain of the order of things, but it should be close enough. You will want to click on “settings” (if it doesn’t take you there automatically). This is the “settings” in the Akismet section, not for WP in general.

    8) There is a place to enter your Akismet API Key.
    Since you don’t have one yet, open up a new window set to:

    9) Click on “get an Akismet API Key.”

    10) Click on “personal site” to get the free account.

    11) Fill in the information they request and set the cost to $0 (or whatever you wish).

    12) I don’t know the steps after that but it should be fairly obvious. Once you get your key, go back to the Akismet Configuration page in your WP plugins section (the one you already have open per above) and enter it.

    Let me know how this works. Should take about 10 minutes.

  6. 6 Cyndi May 4, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    LOL it thought an “eight close-parenthesis was a smiley face.”

    Forgot to mention, even if this takes you an hour, it will still save you countless hours in moderation and other spam control.

  7. 7 staticnonsense May 4, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    oh god google captcha. i had to have someone else create my email account for me because i couldn’t get past it! seriously what the hell.

    thank you thank you thank you so much for this! and for mentioning that it’s not just a barrier for visually impaired folk. jumbled up abstract looking letters only further confuse my already abstract brain that’s trying to think differently to read ): such a pain.

  8. 8 Allison Nastoff May 5, 2011 at 8:15 am

    Thank you so much for posting this! You are right about the fact that people who are aware of the problem don’t have captchas. When I was setting up my blog, I thought about making users who are not registered with livejournal fill out the captcha, but realized that as much as I hate captchas, I didn’t want to make my blog inaccesible to others like me. Yes, I get spam comments now and then, but I would much rather deal with spam than have an inaccessible blog, and I cannot tell you how many times I would have commented on blogs had it not been for the captcha. I hope a lot of bloggers read your post! Again, thank you!

  9. 9 Sharon Wachsler May 5, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Allison and Staticnonsense,

    You’re welcome! I hope it helps. Most of the credit goes to L-Squared for giving me the info about how to disable the feature.

    I hope a lot of bloggers read this, too! If you want others to read it, tweet or post on FB or whatever and hopefully the word will get out. Having access info as part of the ADBC announcements really made a big difference there, so I plan to refer people to this post when I host the disability blog carnival, too. We shall see. . . .

  10. 10 Sharon Wachsler May 5, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Thank you so much to both Cyndi and Cyndy (is there something about the name that makes you a tech wizard? A couple of people recently told me I shouldn’t have named my dog “Barnum” if I wanted him to work and not clown! Maybe I’ll name my next dog “Carl Sagan” or something….) for generously offering your time to help me with the spam on my other blog. I haven’t been able to work on this yet — I have been a bear of very little brain lately — but when I am in less pain and more rested, I definitely will use your suggestions (and report back). Thank you so much!

  11. 11 vicky May 6, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    Word? Ha! I may or may not be ‘handicapped’ but very often I have to try a bunch of times to figure out what the ‘word’ (and it is often NOT a word, but just some letters) is. One thing I believe I have found out. Pretty sure. You don’t need to be correct in copying it exactly. I think I have even purposely copied it wrong, and it is still accepted.

  12. 12 Sharon Wachsler May 6, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    Hey Vicky,
    Yeah, I think it’s weird that they call it “word” verification, since they usually intentionally give you non-words.
    I wondered about whether it needs to be correct anymore, because it used to be that it was much more distorted-looking, and I would try to decipher it over and over, and it would involve a lot of guesswork, and I’d keep getting told it was wrong and to try again.
    Then, they made it less distorted-looking, but still, sometimes I’m not sure, and now it always accepts my guesses. So, I think perhaps you are right.

  13. 13 Sharon Wachsler May 9, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Thank you so much, Cyndi! I just activated Akismet! Woohoo! I really appreciate your help.

  14. 14 Sharon Wachsler May 13, 2011 at 12:00 am

    Cyndy Otty,

    Thank you! My tech support person installed those plugins. Between that and Akismet, I have been spam-free the last couple days! It’s been great!

  15. 15 Kelly December 7, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    On Blogger’s new re-done format, there is no where to disable the CAPTCHA. I have done a search and found others have this issue as well.

    What I did is at the current time, Blogger still allows one to “Switch Back” to the old format. I did this and followed your directions listed above and hopefully now the CAPTCHA is disabled. I cannot tell because when I comment on my blog it does not ask for a CAPTCHA.

    This may be a reason why many people have not disabled it even though you have asked for people to do so on the blog carnivals you’ve hosted. I truly did not realize that I had CAPTCHA on my blog because there was no option on the re-done Blogger’s settings page for it and assumed it must not be there anymore. I looked before I contributed to your PFAM carnivals. I hope you will understand that I was not meaning to be rude. I certainly want my blog to be accessible.

  16. 16 Sharon December 7, 2011 at 5:24 pm


    Thank you so much for this information! Oh, this is infuriating! Recently I saw a flurry of tweets from blind bloggers about the new Blogger version, and I didn’t know what it was about. I bet this is some of it. I had no idea there was a “new Blogger” format that doesn’t allow you to disable it! That is appalling.

    I so much appreciate you bringing this to my attention, and also going to the trouble of switching back to disable it. I wonder if there is a “work around” that I don’t know about. I’m going to look into this.

    I absolutely did not think you were trying to be rude. My assumption is that most people don’t realize that their blogs even have Captcha because they don’t have to do it to respond to comments. This is very helpful information. I appreciate your thoughtfulness. 🙂

  17. 17 bint alshamsa December 8, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    It’s really sad, because I *am* hearing-impaired and I didn’t even think about how CAPTCHA might be a problem for people with multiple disabilities. I had it on my blog, because I always thought it was really cute how sometimes the “word” was ironic when paired with the comment that I was leaving on someone’s blog. Some of my friends know that I collect words and like it when people tell me what their CAPTCHA was. However, that’s nothing worth keeping there now that I know that it can be a barrier for some of my sisters and brothers in the disability community. I managed to remove it just now. Thanks for bringing this up. I had no idea it was an issue, until I saw you mention it on Cilla Slugga’s blog.

  18. 18 Sharon December 8, 2011 at 9:20 pm


    thank you SO MUCH for this comment! and thank you for ditching your captcha! yay!!

    yes, i have a good friend who is deafblind, and captcha is the bane of her existence. i just want to scream every time she can’t access a resource because of it. it’s a serious problem. anything you can do to spread the word is most appreciated!

    (i’m a word fanatic, too. i have a thesaurus in my bed. i hope you find another way to fulfill your daily word irony quotient. heh heh)

  19. 19 Maxwell Ivey January 9, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    Hello; thanks for the thoughtful well written post. I have a captcha on my blog for email and rss subscription, but i signed up for them myself just to make sure that the audio security process worked. I have found many sites especially bloggers that don’t have an audio or nonvisual method for solving their captcha. I understand that the image verifications are getting more and more difficult every day and that many sighted people are also having trouble solving the image captchas. If you are going to have a captcha without an audio option, then at least tell me so at the beginning of the form. Nothing makes me madder than to have a great comment written and fill out all the other information only to find out I can’t post it. thanks again, Max

  20. 20 Sharon January 9, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Hi Max,
    Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
    I appreciate that you’ve put some thought into this and that you care about access for people with disabilities.
    Unfortunately, audio captcha isn’t a solution to providing access because many people with disabilities can’t use the audio, either. I divide these folks into two groups, just for ease of explanation:
    1. Deafblind people. One of my best friends is deafblind, and captcha is the bane of her existence, as it completely blocks her access to huge portions of the internet. Deafblind people exist and rely on the computer and internet a LOT, and captcha is a serious problem for them. It hurts my heart how much captcha frustrates her and prevents her from using parts of the internet which I can.
    2. There are a variety of other disabilities that also are stymied by captcha. Other people who can’t use both the audio and visual captchas are people with sensory processing disorders. People with certain developmental, neurological, and movement disorders also find them difficult or impossible. And there are people like me, who have basically correctible vision and have no known hearing problems and yet find captchas difficult to use. I have brain injury, and I’m assuming that’s the reason, because I will sometimes do a visual captcha over and over until I ask someone else to read the letters to me, and they have no problem (and sometimes I think they have a slightly condescending, confused air about them as they read them to me, but I’m probably projecting that because I feel defensive and embarrassed that it’s so easy for them and so hard for me). As for audio captchas, I consider them a cruel joke! LOL I have never, ever remotely understood an audio captcha, and attempting it, with the horribly distorted noise they use, hurts my brain! (Literally. I experience them as painful.)
    I hope this has given you more food for thought, and I would love to know if it has changed your perception of captcha?

  21. 21 Maxwell Ivey January 9, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    Hello; after reading your follow up post, I agree that I should remove the captchas. However, being totally blind, the method of removing the captchas is a whole other problem. My experience with my blogs is that anything other than writing posts is an adventure that will surely result in a headache or at least head scratching frustration. as for audio captchas I’m fine with everyone’s accept google. they are still using the ones that sound like the numbers are being transmitted from the international space station. Most others the only problem is the amount of information. Now they read six words instead of four. Before that most of them played a section of audio from an old tyme radio show. I liked those a lot. They were much easier to get the first time. and most of the audio captchas now have an easy to find link for playing the sound file over. I like the math puzzles, and a new one I’m finding i really like. It asks you a question like how many of these are oceans or birds or continents and then you check the ones that are. And don’t feel bad about the problems with your solving image captchas. Many people are telling me that the visual security tests are getting more and more difficult to solve as the spammers find ways around the simple images with clear text. A good blog and hope we can exchange ideas often in the future. take care, max

  22. 22 Sharon Wachsler February 25, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Hi Maxwell,
    I thought I’d replied to your comment quite a while back, but I can’t seem to find it. Anyway, thank you very much for following up with your second comment and for doing your best to make your blog accessible to people with disabilities in addition to, or other than, blindness. I think the solution for all of us is to do away with captcha. There really are great spam control software programs already, so it’s just a big access problem that is not particularly solving any other problems very well, IMO.

  1. 1 Waspish Wednesday…Works? CAPTCHA News « After Gadget Trackback on June 22, 2011 at 7:05 pm
  2. 2 Waspish Wednesday: New Wrinkle on Captcha Problem « After Gadget Trackback on December 8, 2011 at 12:06 am
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