IRS expands support for disabled

The Internal Revenue Service recently beefed up its support for a program that will enable more of its employees with disabilities to join the information technology work force.

The IRS expanded the mission of the Information and Resources Accessibility Program (IRAP) to ensure that employees with disabilities have access to a diverse selection of specialized electronic resources, according to IRS officials.

"People with disabilities are an under-represented group in the U.S. IT workplace,'' said Paul Cosgrave, the chief information officer at the IRS. "With programs like this, we are doing our part to address this issue and take advantage of a highly productive source of talent.''

IRAP's predecessor, the Computer/Telecommunications Accessibility Program (CAP), was founded in 1992 with a mission to make certain that personnel with disabilities were provided the latest technology to perform their jobs. The IRS changed the name of the program this year and expanded its focus, in part, to offer a greater variety of technology to its growing number of IT workers with disabilities.

"There were only five employees who worked in the CAP program,'' said T.J. Cannady, program manager for IRAP. "We've more than doubled that number to 13. That's terribly significant. Frankly, there weren't enough people to run the program. We increased the staff to devote resources in testing products. We are testing more products to determine how they will work with adaptive technologies. The people need to have the proper tools to do the job.''

Cosgrave said he noticed while in the private sector that people with disabilities were underrepresented in the IT work force, even though there was a shortage of labor. "In all my work with private industry, I never saw this level of attention given to accessibility programs,'' said Cosgrave, who spent 25 years working in the technology industry.

IRAP will help determine the adaptive technologies required to assist employees with disabilities; provide technical support to users of those technologies; ensure "mainstream" applications are compatible with adaptive technologies; and educate IRS managers and employees on IT accessibility issues.

"The program is more than just buying equipment,'' Cosgrave said. "People who work in the office solve problems on the front end, so we deliver systems to disabled employees that have been thoroughly tested for accessibility.''

Cannady said the strategies will enhance the efforts of IRAP to comply with federal laws that require office automation and telecommunication systems to be accessible to people with disabilities. For example, the program offers computers that come with Braille printers or talking screen readers for visually impaired people and special keyboards for mobility-impaired people.

For privacy reasons, the agency declined to give a specific count of its workers with disabilities. But Cannady said the number nearly doubled since last year, and an agency spokeswoman said the IRS employs thousands of workers with disabilities.

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