November 29, 2022

Clubesuite

Stock development

Denied access

Disabled people may have difficulty securing their online accounts. This is being changed by a few researchers.

Digital experiences are supposed to be frictionless by technologists. Users can move easily between screens, mimicking the mythical efficiency of a perpetual motion machine. Due to this, standard design practices disguise complex technical systems under simple interfaces. 

However, online security makes this difficult. A strong password, but one that is difficult to remember, is necessary for security. Rather than being a bug, complexity becomes a feature. As security complexity increases over time, bad actors develop new tactics that result in high-profile hacks, which then require ever more elaborate countermeasures.

Everybody is affected by these countermeasures, but people with disabilities are particularly affected. Disabled people face a lot of difficulties when it comes to online security. Password fields commonly contain asterisks (*) in place of letters. As a result, visually impaired people use screen readers that replace every occluded character with “star” or call the entire field “concealed text.” Imagine typing a password and hearing either “star” repeatedly or complete silence. This makes it difficult to check what you typed, leading to mistakes and frustration.As a result, visually impaired people use screen readers that replace every occluded character with “star” or call the entire field “concealed text.” Imagine typing a password and hearing either “star” repeatedly or complete silence. This makes it difficult to check what you typed, leading to mistakes and frustration. 

A facial recognition feature for a device, like Apple Face ID or Windows Hello, is another example. Additionally, facial recognition creates new challenges for blind users due to inconsistent performance for underrepresented groups. UC Berkeley’s web accessibility evangelist Lucy Greco says that 95 percent of the time, the camera can’t see her. My finger always touches the same place on the fingerprint sensor. “I don’t know why it doesn’t see my face.” 

Often, disabled users opt out of security measures entirely because of these types of difficulties. New York Public Library assistive technology coordinator Chancey Fleet notices that many emerging technology users—who are blind, visually impaired, or have other disabilities—get a lot of help setting up their phones. In many cases, they skip the passcode themselves, or have it made for them by someone else. The passcode is hard to enter when you’re new and everything is hard. It will become habitual for months or even years without a passcode.”

This results in a crisis. Disabled people are increasingly leaving themselves unprotected in a digital world. Disabled people are becoming more vulnerable to digital threats as security levels increase among non-disabled people, deepening disparities. According to the World Health Organisation, over a billion people worldwide suffer from disabilities. Additionally, the number of people with disabilities is growing: the number of people who live longer and the number of people who suffer disabilities are correlated.All of us will experience some form of disability at some point in our lives. Time will tell. In making accessibility a priority, nondisabled people not only serve their fellow humans with disabilities today, but also their future disabled selves.

Disability protection is not inevitable in a digital world. There is evidence that it is possible to rethink authentication for disabilities, integrating perspectives from the security and accessibility domains. If our technology aspired to keep everyone safe, their efforts provide a glimpse of what that could look like.