by Scott Davert
In 2010, when I took a 3 hour flight from Detroit to Denver, I was told that wi-fi was available for a small fee during our flight. How cool would that be? I could browse my email on my laptop, send out some messages bragging of my ability to do this over social networks, check out what my friends were up to, and maybe even get some research done for a tech article I was writing. With a great degree of excitement, I connected to the wi-fi network and began to sign up process using my web browser. And then, at the end of the page, I found every Braille and screen access software user's least favorite part of using registering for services online: a CAPTCHA.
For those unfamiliar, a CAPTCHA is something many Web sites use to protect automated systems from creating accounts and exploiting the Web site/service in any number of ways. It presents the user with an image of letters and numbers, and demands that you fill out what is shown in the picture. The images, as I understand it, are not very clear. While some services offer an audio solution, the audio is nearly impossible to understand. And even if it were easy to understand, this process is not accessible to a person who is deaf-blind and uses Braille to access the web. Bearing that info in mind, you can probably guess the end result of my excitement: disappointment. I was denied access to the wi-fi service because I obviously couldn't solve the CAPTCHA the system presented for me. There are Web services that can assist with the solving of these pesky CAPTCHAs, but they require you already have an internet connection to communicate with the server. I did have Webvisum (www.webvisum.com) installed on my laptop, but because I couldn't access the internet, I couldn't get the service to work for me. So, sadly, I had a nonproductive flight that day.
Earlier this month, I took a Delta flight from New York to New Orleans. There was again mention of a wi-fi connection, and because I'm a nerd, I decided I'd try accessing the system with my iPhone. Expecting no results, I filled out the form, found the CAPTCHA I had encountered 2 years ago, and.... Wait! "Click here to answer a question instead". I did just that, and was prompted with the following: "what is 5 plus 4?" One would hope I could add up to 9, which I did. I gave the answer, submitted the requested info, and within 30 seconds, was online! So that posting and emailing that I was looking forward to doing 2 years ago was now finally happening. I was able to access location services to determine our approximate location, read my email, brag on Twitter, browse some news articles, and even send some iMessages to others who have Apple devices. Within no time at all, or so it seemed, I was ready to power down since we were landing. It was very nice to have equal access to the web just like everyone else had, and I commend Gogo, the company running the service, for giving an accessible CAPTCHA alternative for those who cannot see images or understand audio. You can learn more about this service at their Web site at www.gogoair.com, though it's important to note that under the list of airlines, Delta is not yet listed. So it would seemthat that particular section of the site at least, needs to be updated. It was very nice to be able to use the wi-fi just as effectively as my sighted and hearing counterparts on the flight that day, and I hope that Gogo will continue to have this accessible CAPTCHA method as an option. I also hope that Delta keeps them as an ISP for in-flight services, so that I can continue enjoying using the internet while in the air. I also hope that this starts a trend toward more products and services that embrace universal design. Gogo received my money twice so far, and I plan to use the service againwhen I travel later this month if the aircrafts are equipped accordingly.