[Nfbc-info] Towson Technology Aims To Help The Blind

Rob Kaiser rcubfank at sbcglobal.net
Mon Apr 28 05:27:44 UTC 2014

I can't even understand them most of the time.

-----Original Message----- 
From: Lauren Merryfield
Sent: Sunday, April 27, 2014 10:18 PM
To: 'NFB of California List'
Subject: Re: [Nfbc-info] Towson Technology Aims To Help The Blind

I'm glad they don't expect us to remember ten sounds and type all ten of 
them, in order, into a box. I have trouble with the audio captchas that have 
8 numbers to type in. Sometimes I've had to record the audio captcha so I 
could play it back, one number at a time, to get it. I think captchas are 
terrible! I hope this new type will receive broad use, if it is really 

Philippians 4:8 King James Version (KJV) 8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever 
things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, 
whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things 
are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, 
think on these things.
advice from my cats: "meow when you feel like it."
curious about Thirty-One? New summer lineup now available:
Purchase my new book:there's more than one way to be okay at:
Cat lovers, please visit me at:

-----Original Message-----
From: Nfbc-info [mailto:nfbc-info-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf Of Nancy 
Sent: Sunday, April 27, 2014 3:47 PM
To: ATI List; mcb chat; Our List; nfbmo list; NFBC List
Subject: [Nfbc-info] Towson Technology Aims To Help The Blind

This comes by way of The Baltimore Sun.

By Carrie Wells, The Baltimore Sun

April 27, 2014

While blind people can browse the Internet through a variety of means, there 
is often one thing that stops them cold — a security feature known as a 
CAPTCHA that's designed to distinguish human users from robots.

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, Towson University secured a U.S. patent for a new 
kind of CAPTCHA that's intended to be easier for those with limited or no 

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 Google's current audio alternative 
CAPTCHA, citing studies showing that version's failure rate of 50 percent 
for blind users.

"Blind people are capable of doing everything that a visual person can on 
the Internet," said Jonathan Lazar, a Towson professor who has led a group 
of graduate and outside researchers on the project. "We just try to come up 
with some equivalent features that make it easier."

"Some people are unaware that blind people can use the Internet," Lazar 

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 

The Towson researchers worked closely on testing with the National 
Federation of the Blind, which is headquartered in the Riverside 
neighborhood of Baltimore. Anne Taylor, the federation's director of access 
technology, said there are several types of software available for blind 
users to read the text on a Web page aloud. Taylor, who is blind, said not 
being able to use visual CAPTCHAs could impede a blind person's ability to 
enjoy the benefits of the Internet and hurt their ability to hold a job.

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 

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 
Carnegie Mellon University who developed an early Web page test program for 

The CAPTCHAs protect from automated hacking programs that can also leave 
spam comments on blogs, attack protected passwords and send junk email.

Tim Brooks, the chief software developer on the SoundsRight project since 
2010, said the audio CAPTCHA can be embedded into any Web page and 
customized by the webmaster. Brooks said its script could be tweaked to be 
used in any number of different languages or have users identify any number 
of sounds. An organization for train enthusiasts, he said, could potentially 
have users identify the sounds of different types of trains.

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 
Jon Holman in 2007 as a class project, Lazar said. In a 2007 focus group, 
blind users identified visual CAPTCHAs as the biggest impediment to their 
using the Internet independently. Several other students, faculty members 
and outside researchers have assisted in developing the technology since the 
project began.

"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 $50,000 grant from the Maryland 
Technology Development Corp., Lazar said. The researchers went through 
several different prototypes, rejecting those that weren't found to be 
secure enough.

The SoundsRight CAPTCHA is in use on the National Federation of the Blind's 
website, and the organization is working to encourage various groups and 
businesses to adopt it.

"We are all one step away from a sudden disability, so why not make the 
Internet an inclusive place for everybody?" Taylor said.

cwells at baltsun.com


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