IRS: Tax forms will talk

IRS: Tax forms will talk

A new design tool for fillable forms will make the IRS’ 50 top online tax schedules usable by visually impaired persons in the next tax season. Adobe Systems Inc. today announced that the IRS has been testing Adobe PDF Forms Access Agent, a $99 developer tool, to provide audible instructions for filling out each field of a form. The IRS keeps several hundred forms and publications online in Adobe’s Portable Document Format.

A blind or low-vision user must have a screen reader installed—either GW Micro Inc.’s Window-Eyes or Freedom Scientific Inc.’s Jaws—to hear the instructions spoken aloud by a computerized voice.

The Adobe tool “extracts and automates addition of the text next to each field so that the user hears, for instance, ‘Enter the first three digits of your Social Security number here, the next two here and so on,’ ” senior product manager Sean Conley said. The screen reader also pronounces the name of a form and other information such as subheadings that might otherwise be inaccessible.

Conley said the Adobe product for Microsoft Windows 2000, NT 4.0 or XP understands the logical order of reading across or down tables as required. He said testers have found that it significantly reduces the labor of making forms accessible to visually impaired persons—the most difficult group to assist under the Section 508 mandate for equal access to government information.

Conley said Mike Moore, chief of the IRS’ Alternative Media Center, said today at a seminar that 1 percent of the tax agency’s employees are blind or have low vision, and that IRS has 487 internal forms of its own.

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