Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Solving Those Frustrating CAPTCHAs


The Problem

Creating an account on many websites, something that should be simple for anyone to do, often is burdensome for someone with blindness and visual impairment because the final step often includes the solving of a CAPTCHA. Having sighted assistance may not be a viable option, and even when it is, someone who is blind should be able to complete this task without it. In this post, we will define the term “CAPTCHA”, describe why one is used, and offer some solutions that individuals who are blind and visually impaired may use to solve them independently.

What is a CAPTCHA?

If you’ve spent any time online, you’ve encountered a CAPTCHA. The official CAPTCHA Site explains the tool. It is used to tell humans and bots apart. A CAPTCHA is a program that generates a test which humans can pass and current computer programs cannot. The term CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Touring Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart. It was coined in 2000 by four individuals from Carnegie Mellon University.

The reason for implementing a CAPTCHA makes sense; no one wants spam, viruses or worms in their inboxes or on their sites. No one who runs a blog wants to spend time filtering through spam comments. Having demonstrated the usefulness of a CAPTCHA, we are left still with the problem that the CAPTCHA has brought with it, namely that most CAPTCHAs are inaccessible, and some of those that are accessible are not usable because their speech is incomprehensible or their images are so unrecognizable that someone with blindness or a visual impairment cannot solve them.

Available Solutions

Accessible CAPTCHAs

As noted above, there are some fully accessible CAPTCHAs. A site like Text CAPTCHA offers simple text CAPTCHAs for people who run websites or blogs to use on them. These CAPTCHAs consist of a question posed to you such as a simple math problem, for example. According to the official CAPTCHA site mentioned previously, there is a greater likelihood of bots finding the answer to such a simple CAPTCHA, especially if it is used on several sites. This option, while it provides an accessible CAPTCHA, seems not to be used very often and may not be as secure as some other, less accessible, options.


The reCAPTCHA site from Google claims to offer CAPTCHAs that are easy for people to solve and hard for bots to decode. Here is where the problems with reCAPTCHA begin.

Inconsistent reCAPTCHAs

reCAPTCHA, as advertised, offers an accessible CAPTCHA which consists of spoken numbers. The demo CAPTCHA on the site is relatively easy to use. If every CAPTCHA were like this one, the problem for people who are blind and visually impaired would be greatly minimized.

Allow me to include a couple of personal experiences to demonstrate the problem with reCAPTCHA. A site I visited recently had a reCAPTCHA heading on it. You checked a box that said, “I’m not a robot.”

After a delay of nearly a minute, a CAPTCHA appeared along with an option for an audio CAPTCHA. Having selected the audio CAPTCHA, rather than letters or numbers, I received a seemingly continuous series of difficult questions. For instance, I was asked to select from the list all of the “Belgian ails.” I had to check all the correct answers using check boxes that corresponded with each answer. Later I was told to select the “Creepiest movies.” The questions never got easier.

To make matters worse, some of the labels corresponding to the check boxes read inconsistently with my screen reader. Needless to say, I was unable to complete the task I sought to complete.

reCAPTCHA claims to be simple to use; however, in this particular case, it was anything but easy. In another instance on another site with a reCAPTCHA, I received an audio message that said something about the computer transmitting signals of some sort. I was told to try again later. Perhaps the system thought my computer was a bot? Regardless of the reason, I decided to consider other options for dealing with CAPTCHAS.


CAPTCHA Be Gone, developed by Accessible Apps, is a browser extension for Internet Explorer and Firefox. The developers hope to make it available for other browsers in the future. CAPTCHA Be Gone, when it is integrated with the browser, solves a CAPTCHA with one simple keystroke and places the answer on the computer clipboard automatically. Simply paste the solved CAPTCHA into the edit box on the site and hit the button to move forward, and the CAPTCHA is solved, usually in under 15 seconds.

You can pay for CAPTCHA Be Gone monthly or annually--$3.50 per month ($3 monthly during the initial rollout of CAPTCHA Be Gone) and $33 annually. Since CAPTCHA Be Gone is a browser extension and not software, it is downloaded somewhat differently.

To order or get more information, visit the CAPTCHA Be Gone website. You can do several things on the site, namely, listen to a demo of CAPTCHA Be Gone in action, sign up for a newsletter that tells you when something changes, find CAPTCHA Be Gone’s Twitter page, or sign up for the service. You must sign up by creating an account and follow the directions in the email you receive. Don’t worry—the site doesn’t make you solve a CAPTCHA to sign up!

If you want to know more about CAPTCHA Be Gone’s developers, visit the Accessible Apps website. There you can find out how to follow them on Twitter and read about their growing list of accessible software titles including Hope, QRead, QCast, QFeed, Chicken Nugget, and QSeek.


WebVisum is a free  extension/add-on exclusively for the Firefox browser that, among other things, solves many CAPTCHAs. We were reluctant to include it because it has been available then not available then available and now seems to be unavailable again. According to the site that describes it, WebVisum works with the current version of Firefox; however, it is unclear if the extension was updated recently. The site states that you must use the latest version of Firefox; WebVisum will not work with older versions of the browser.

Keep the following things in mind. On the page listed above, you can download the add-on; however, you cannot use it until you create an account, and you cannot create an account without an invitation from someone who already uses WebVisum. Fortunately, if you fill out the form on that page and describe who you are and why you need the add-on, you should receive an invitation rather quickly. Go to the actual WebVisum homepage. On that page, choose “Register”. Enter your information, and wait for the registration code to arrive in your email. Once you receive it, follow the directions in the email.
While researching WebVisum, we discovered another problem. The extension is not "signed", another way of saying that it is considered experimental and appears not to be approved officially by Mozilla, the makers of Firefox. This matters because all add-ons that are not signed/approved, starting with Firefox 43, are disabled by default and cannot be downloaded. Firefox's help site states that one can go into Firefox and change this setting and allow unsigned add-ons to work, but it requires a high level of technical knowledge to even attempt to do this. To complicate things further, I was unable to get to the stated location and even attempt to make the change. In summary, WebVisum seems like an excellent tool; it is worth getting an invitation and waiting to see if it will again be available to use; however, it is unlikely that you will be able to use it right away. Getting WebVisum signed should be easy to do; however, it appears that its developers have chosen not to remedy the problem at this time. You may wish to contact the WebVisum team using the link on the site. The site does state that it may take a long time to get a response. The best hope, then, may be for many people to contact them, indicating to the developers that people want to use WebVisum.


While you may encounter a site that uses a text CAPTCHA, such sites are few and far between. Expect to run into mostly inaccessible or only partially accessible CAPTCHAs. While the two resources outlined in this post have their limitations, they may solve the problem for most people who are blind and visually impaired. While other add-ons exists that claim to solve CAPTCHAs, CAPTCHA Be Gone and WebVisum were created specifically to assist people who are blind and visually impaired. We look forward to hearing about your experiences with these browser extensions.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Throwback Thursday Object: Morrison "Perfection" Wire Stitching Machine

I apologize for the quality of the photograph of our object this week, but the stitcher is on exhibit in our basement and the lighting there is poor.  I hope the story makes up for the bad image.    A wire stitching machine was used in the APH bindery to staple the spines of braille magazines, sheet music, and pamphlets.  The machine feeds wire from a spool, cuts it, forms a staple, drives it, and folds over the points.  An operator used foot pedals to control the action.  Similar machines are still in use at APH every day although we also use an automatic stitcher/folder line too.  We acquired our first wire stitcher around 1902 and purchased our first "Perfection" model in 1910, but we bought this one used.  The Illinois Braille and Sightsaving School, now the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, was a major producer of braille music scores before it closed its print shop in the summer of 1963.  Most of the machinery in the shop was bought by APH and brought to Louisville later that year.  This machine still has the state of Illinois inventory tag.

Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

November, 2016 APH News

**This Month’s Headlines:

  • You Can Test BrailleBlaster Beta
  • New Products
  • Give Us Your Feedback on Teacher's Pet Software!
  • Talking Typer for iOS: Field Testers Needed!
  • APH Is Looking for Your Input on Audiojack!
  • Touch, Label, and Learn Poster: Human Skeleton Survey
  • Share Your Creativity with Carousel of Textures!
  • A Bold, Strong Annual Meeting
  • First-Ever APH/AER Rehabilitation Institute
  • 16th Annual National Prison Braille Forum
  • APH Partners on a Landmark Book Project
  • Typhlo & Tactus Tactile Book Contest 2017
  • Compilation of National Listserv of State Vision Consultants
  • Find a Winter Sports Camp!
  • Tactile Art Products and Materials
  • Together with Braille Tales
  • APH Travel Calendar and much, much more… //

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Throwback Thursday Object: APH Variable Speech Control Module

For readers of audio books, especially folks reading technical or reference material prior to the age of computer indexing, you often wanted to scan through material quickly to find the passage you needed.  Talking book machines for blind and visually impaired readers started to include such features almost from the very beginning.  But the first such controls were simple, speeding up the phonograph.  Most kids of my era know how entertaining it could be to play a 33 rpm record at 45.  It speeded it up, yes, but the singer sounded like one of Santa’s elves.  Sound guys called that “chipmunk distortion.”  Later machines that appeared in the 1970s included a component that adjusted the pitch as you increased the speed, and kept the speaker’s voice sounding relatively normal.  But if you couldn’t afford to buy a new player, you could get our Object of the Week, the APH Variable Speech Control Module.  It was basically a phonograph accessory allowing recorded speech to be increased or decreased without pitch distortion.  It was introduced in the APH catalog in 1976.  A digital version came out in 1999.  It used proprietary technology developed by the VSC Corporation, which took the “chipmunk” out of speed listening. It is a rectangular aluminum box about 6 inches square with a patch of wood grain on the front.  I’m not sure why everything in the 1970s had to have fake wood grain, but there you are.  On the front are sliding switches to adjust the pitch and volume and jacks for a headphone and to bring in the signal from the phonograph or cassette player.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Throwback Thursday Object: A Tactile Puzzle from England

Our object this week comes from England.  It is a colorful 31-piece puzzle of a galleon, a type of large sailing ship in use from the 15th through 17th centuries, in full sail.  It is made from plywood with a paper illustration glued to the top.  The ship itself is raised higher than the background pieces.   The Royal National Institute for the Blind(RNIB) was founded in 1868 as the British and Foreign Blind Association for Promoting the Education and Employment of the Blind.  Its name changed to the National Institute for the Blind(NIB) in 1914, and to RNIB in 1953.  In 1920, the NIB expanded its mandate to include the production and sale of  "Apparatus for Use by the Blind" and produced its first catalog soon after.   It introduced its first tactile puzzles around 1927.

Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

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