Making Accessibility a Reality at the IRS

Making accessibility a reality is an ongoing effort of the IRS’ Alternative Media Center (AMC). The IRS established the AMC in 2001 to provide alternative media resources to taxpayers and IRS employees with disabilities and to exemplify the spirit of the laws designed to enhance access to government information by people with disabilities.

In 2002, the AMC delivered a roadmap for creating fillable PDF forms that are accessible to MSAA compliant screen readers. This past filing season, the AMC has made over 100 of the most popular tax forms available to taxpayers as talking tax forms. They can be found on the IRS website.

This year the AMC was able to use the Adobe Form Access 1.0 to automate the tagging process for creating accessible, fill-in PDF forms. One of the most valuable features of Forms Access to the IRS is the ability import a tag structure from another document into the current document. This enables us to more efficiently refresh forms that are revised annually.

Another major initiative of the agency is authoring for accessibility. The AMC provides training and guidance to authors throughout the Service on effective methods of making products accessible during the authoring and development stage. A critical step in this process is the development of verbal descriptive narratives (VDNs). VDNs are text equivalents of graphical content, such as pictures, graphs, flowcharts, etc. They allow people who are blind or visually impaired to understand the intent and information conveyed through graphics.

The AMC has worked with IRS Tax Forms & Publications and contractors, who are experts in the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML), in developing a new Document Type Definition (DTD) for use in authoring tax instructions and tax publications. The new DTD has been incorporated into the SGML authoring system and will allow authors to input VDNs using the new interface. It has been a top priority of the AMC to train these authors on how to use the interface and how to effectively write verbal descriptors.

The net result is that all revised 2004 tax instructions and publications will be 100% accessible to blind people when they are developed instead of adding in accessibility after the fact. This is quite an accomplishment; however, many challenges still exist, such as: developing standards for verbal descriptions, training, and creating accessible tax forms during the authoring stage. The AMC continues to move forward and strives to be proactive in meeting and/or exceeding the standards of the laws affecting accessibility.

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About the Author: Maureen P. Goulder

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