The Captcha problem: limited ECI accessibility for blind people and non-English speakers

May 6, 2013 News

One year after the launch of the ECI campaigners and ECI organizers agree: while the European Citizens’ Initiative is a great new tool of civic participation, its implementation is insufficient. One inadequacy of many concerning the current online collection software provided by the European Commission is the necessity to fill out a Captcha before singing an ECI. This test where the user has to enter a series of numbers and characters is supposed to limit automated signatures. Unfortunately the current implementation prevents some EU citizens to sign a European Citizens’ Initiative at all – especially blind people struggle with the erroneous implementation of the Captcha.

Organizers as well as citizens complain about the Captcha. The “Captcha doesn’t work on mobile phone and is pointless” and “stops citizens” from signing. The biggest problem at the moment is that the audio version of the Captcha doesn’t work for some people at all and is available in English language only. This implementation not only blocks non-English speakers from signing by using the audio Captcha, but excludes blind people as a whole.

“All items are made fully accessible until you get to the famous Captcha. In other words, as blind user you can get all the information, explanation etc. on an equal basis with others, but before completing the signature procedure you get stuck. The problem is that the audio Captcha gives you an error message when clicking on it. I even tried the English version which is most likely to work, but even there it did not allow me to get any step further. “ writes Lars Bosselmann from the CBM EU Liaison Office. “As you will have understood at this stage, I failed to sign the initiative so could not exercise my right as every other citizen.”

The implementing regulation of the ECI is quite clear: the use of a Captcha is optional and only “one possible verification process” (Annexe 1 of the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 1179/2011). Commission technicians responsible for the online collection system refuse to act, ignoring the accessibility problems caused by the English-only and oftentimes non-functioning Captcha.

Together with campaigners and NGOs, activists are currently encouraging, with the help of MEPs, to make the Commission aware of these problems and increase the technical support for the European Citizens’ Initiative. Hopefully these accessibility problems will be resolved as soon as possible so to enable blind and non-English speaking EU citizens to benefit from their rights in the same way other European citizens do.

Written by Jerry Weyer