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More and more websites that use CAPTCHAs have started to cater for visually-impaired users who cannot solve a visual (text-based) CAPTCHA by providing an audio CAPTCHA.

What I find bizarre is that the UI element used to invoke the audio CAPTCHA is a wheelchair symbol.

Wheelchair symbol

Leaving aside for a moment the problem that it doesn’t look clickable, what are the ramifications of using this symbol for a function that is completely unrelated to wheelchairs?

Of course I understand that the thinking behind this is likely that the symbol would be easily understood to refer generally to “disabilities” — but how are visually-impaired users, who can’t see the symbol anyway, going to benefit from that, keeping in mind that the symbol is 10 times smaller than the CAPTCHA? Is it worth the risk of offending/alienating visually healthy users who happen to be bound to a wheelchair?

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What's the alt text on the image? –  ChrisF Sep 9 '10 at 23:20
    
@Igor - Which is useful for those using screen readers. –  ChrisF Sep 10 '10 at 8:02
    
@ChrisF - but makes no difference if the image was a banana.. His point was more of why is it a wheelchair, than why does it exist - at least, I believe it is :) –  Sk93 Sep 10 '10 at 8:56
    
@Sk93 - true, but I was wondering if the text related to the image rather than the function of the button. –  ChrisF Sep 10 '10 at 9:29
    
@ChrisF - OIC. That makes more sense - sorry :) –  Sk93 Sep 10 '10 at 9:33
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1 Answer

up vote 19 down vote accepted

The symbol you mention is actually the international symbol of access. It's been around since the late sixties, and it is used to indicate that access has been improved, particularly for wheelchair users, but also for other disability users.

Take a gander here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Symbol_of_Access

If you start using different signs and symbols for things, then disabled users and non-disabled users alike wouldn't be able to clearly identify those access improvements.

Not all people who need to use the "click to hear" functionality are totally blind. For example, you eyesight may be bad enough that you can't clearly read screen-text that's been designed to fool OCR spam robots, but can recognise the wheelchair symbol. (c'mon - even I with perfect vision, struggle with some of the text that gets shown!)

It's all about standardising accessibility, helping those with disabilities get on just as well as those without :)

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On the mac, Apple use a different symbol of a standing stick figure enclosed in a circle (possibly a stylised version of Vitruvian Man) for their Universal Access system preference icon. Wasn't helpful at all when I originally went looking for the accessibility control panel settings oh so many years ago. –  Erics Oct 15 '11 at 8:54
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