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Screen-Reader Problems Uncovered In Olympics Ticket Site

Some blind web users may not have been able to buy tickets for next year’s London Olympics due to the partial inaccessibility of the tickets website, testing by the charity AbilityNet has found.

In April this year, AbilityNet tested a series of major websites linked to the 2012 Olympics with screen readers, magnifiers, voice recognition software and other tools used by people with disabilities. Sites tested included the main London 2012 site: ,
the Transport for London website: ,
the Visit London website: ,
and various specific hotel and restaurant websites.

Most aspects of the all the sites were “really quite good from an accessibility point of view”, Robin Christopherson, AbilityNet Head of Digital Inclusion, told delegates at a seminar ‘London 2012 – the IT accessible city’ hosted earlier this month by the Information Technologists’ Company.

However the ticket buying section of the Olympics site used a ‘Captcha’ anti-fraud system which required users to either decode a distorted image or an audio alternative. The latter was intended for people with impaired vision, but “I couldn’t work out what it was because it was also distorted,” Christopherson said. “This would cause a lot of problems for people – the blind user wasn’t able to register for tickets.”

The site would have been better off using a system such as ‘Textcaptcha’ (, he said, which asks the user a logic question which only a human is capable of answering such as “Pub, sweatshirt, green, mosquito, white, jelly – the second colour is?”

Such questions do require some level of understanding, but if a user finds one question hard they can ask for as many alternatives as they like, and people with learning difficulties such that they could not answer any of these questions would not have the ability to use the web without help in any case, Christopherson said.

Bob Cottam, head of IT for the London games, said it was inevitable that one or two mistakes would be made in such a large project working to immovable deadlines, but that his team was committed to building in accessibility to all its systems, and was making efforts to ensure problems are minimised.

Other web sites where accessibility problems were found by AbilityNet included the ‘Visit Britain’ website run by the British Tourism Authority, which was a “real stinker”, Christopherson said.

Problems included a video player which automatically started up on accessing the site, so that a screen-reader user is unable to hear the sound of their access software over the sound of the video.

“I’ve got to try and listen to my screen-reader over the top, so I can find pause button to make the stop. But in any case, there isn’t a pause button – the video player they have used is invisible to me so I can’t turn it off.” The player also lacks subtitles or audio description, and the site as a whole features many unlabelled graphics, another barrier for screen reader users, Christopherson said. Use of an accessible video player and better site coding could solve all these issues, he said.


  1. Catherine Roy | May 29th, 2011 | 1:49 am


    Thanks for posting this story. It is important that people be made aware of these problems.

    I would also note that I do not agree with Robin Christopherson’s following comment :

    “(…) and people with learning difficulties such that they could not answer any of these questions would not have the ability to use the web without help in any case.”

    While this might be the case for some people, I feel this statement is a dangerous over-generalization and can perpetuate a false perception about the abilities of people with cognitive disabilities.

  2. Dan Jellinek | May 29th, 2011 | 10:13 am

    Hello Catherine, as the reporter for this piece, I should make it clear that Robin pointed out that there are actually several million different questions and that users can request a new question as many times as they like, so there is likely to always eventually be one that anyone capable of using the web independently can answer. Also, I would suggest (from experience!) that decoding those distorted lettters or sounds is by no means easier than asking one of the text captcha questions, so at the vey least one is not making things harder for anyone.

    But I note your point that it is always dangerous to generalise for a whole group of people and that individuals may exist who for one reason or another (or for complex groups of reasons) may find a certain type of task harder and another type easier.

    It’s a shame that any of these captcha type trials are needed – but personally I do think the text ones are a good potential tool.

  3. Robin Christopherson | June 1st, 2011 | 2:43 pm

    Catherine – thanks for your comment and apologies for any misunderstanding. My point was that the logic textcaptcha questions were simple enough to be accessible by anyone surfing the web solo. They are in plain English and hence on a par with much of the text one would encounter on web pages (for example; “What is the colour: Pig, Red, House and Wisdom”?) They are certainly much easier to handle than distorted visual or audio codes. If a user finds them too difficult to understand then I submit that they would similarly have difficulties with reading and understanding other pages too – and would thus more than likely be supported in their surfing.

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