|CAPTCHAs, like the one above, help thwart spam and automated bots. But they can also pose a tremendous challenge to blind and visually impaired users.|
Towson’s new innovation, called SoundsRight audio CAPTCHA, was researched and designed by a group of faculty and students led by Dr. Jonathan Lazar, professor of computer and information sciences and director of the universal usability laboratory in the Jess and Mildred Fisher College of Science and Mathematics.
“TEDCO is pleased to support the early-stage development of SoundsRight audio CAPTCHA through our University Technology Development Fund,” says Rob Rosenbaum, president and executive director of TEDCO.
According to a Microsoft Security Intelligence Report, the U.S. has the highest number of bot-infected computers of any country in the world. To guard against automated bot attacks, many websites have embraced a technology called CAPTCHA, an acronym for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.
A CAPTCHA is a challenge-response test—typically comprising a distorted sequence of letters and digits—designed to determine whether the user is human. Theoretically, the distortion is sufficient to confuse text recognition algorithms commonly used in Optical Character Recognition software, while still being recognizable by humans. However, this technology is inaccessible for blind users.
TU’s new approach is based on recognition of common sounds presented to the user through the computer’s audio system. Unlike existing audio-based CAPTCHA systems which are based on English language recordings, SoundsRight relies on simple sound clips such as bells, dog barks and running water. The library of sounds is designed to be recognizable to people of different cultures and backgrounds, thereby granting accessibility to the greatest number of users.
Lazar is partnering with the Information Systems Solutions (ISS) software development team within TU’s Division of Economic and Community Outreach to enhance security features, complete usability testing and further develop a prototype that is commercially viable. ISS is an applied research center that works with diverse organizations to build e-commerce applications, develop dynamic web databases and securely host their websites.
“We are pleased that Towson University has received this grant and is actively working on a CAPTCHA substitute that does not rely on alternative accommodations,” says Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, an active partner of the SoundsRight initiative. “Blind people should not have to use a separate, more time-consuming process to access websites that use CAPTCHAs; we deserve and demand the same access as all other users.”
Rosenbaum agrees. “Creation of applications that aid Internet use among the blind is an area of great promise for technology developers and TEDCO is proud to back such novel innovation.”