Thanks in part to a dreaded Captcha code on the White House's petitions website, it's nearly impossible for blind web users to sign a "We The People" petition seeking support for an international treaty intended to help ... the blind.
The treaty would make it easier for the blind to access creative works by offering certain exceptions to copyright law and permitting such works to be shared across borders. It had seen decades of inaction before being brought to the World Intellectual Property Organization in 2008 and has since received wavering support from the White House.
Politico reported this week that the National Federation of the Blind is now up in arms over the required use of a Captcha code to register and begin signing any petitions on the White House website, including one in support of the treaty.
An audio code option -- meant to help the blind complete the Captcha -- is incomprehensible, according federation spokesman Chris Danielsen. And that same flawed audio code system is in use for people who wish to write the White House an email with any suggestions or complaints regarding the "We The People" site.
Danielsen became aware of the problem when blind people began emailing his organization claiming they could not sign the blind treaty petition.
"In fairness, the White House does claim that it complies with the federal standard for Web accessibility, known as Section 508," he told The Huffington Post in an email. "We can neither confirm nor deny that this is true, but technical compliance does not always equal full accessibility or usability."
Political stagnancy and uncertainty over the treaty is in part due to lobbying efforts by publishers and the Motion Picture Association of America, which works to protect copyrights. In a joint statement with the NFB however, the MPAA publicly affirmed its support for the treaty. Danielsen says he is now concerned about objections raised by the Intellectual Property Owners Association, which includes corporate giants such as of GE, ExxonMobil, Caterpillar, Adobe and Monsanto.
As for fixing the "We The People" Captcha or the indecipherable audio code for blind users, Danielsen has another idea.
"The White House should implement a better audio captcha," he wrote. "That or a different kind of Captcha, such as one that requires the user to answer a simple mathematical or logic question like '3+6=' or 'If today is Friday, what day was three days ago?'" Danielsen hopes the petition will make the White House's position on the treaty more clear.
At the time of writing the blind treaty petition had 7,784 of the 100,000 signatures required for a White House response.
CORRECTION: This piece originally stated that the petition had over 92,000 of the 100,000 signatures required for a White House response. It actually has over 7,000 of the required 100,000.