Doing your taxes is hard enough without the online challenges that people with disabilities face every day. Visual, motor, and learning disabilities can all hinder or prevent taxpayers from submitting their tax forms online, and these complications make it more likely that they’ll face audits and financial penalties.
Making the process of filing taxes more accessible needs to be a multifaceted initiative. The IRS, state governments, and third-party financial companies must all work in unison to improve their web accessibility efforts if they wish to better serve the one in five Americans with a disability.
Web Accessibility and the IRS
The Internal Revenue Service’s website includes an accessibility policy that summarizes the most important website features for people using assistive technologies. These include:
- The use of alt text for website images.
- HTML equivalents for many PDF files.
- The ability to bypass navigation menus, so that users of screen readers can jump directly to selected parts of the page.
Beyond setting a good example for web accessibility, the IRS also provides tax breaks for small businesses that show commitment to making their websites more accessible. Companies can subtract 50% of their expenditures on web accessibility from their total tax liability, up to a maximum deduction of $5,000.
ADA Legal Cases about Tax Season
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 has had a profound impact on how both governments and private institutions provide services to the public. Organizations in both sectors must not discriminate against people with disabilities and must make efforts to provide equal access to all members of the public. Recent years have seen a sharp spike in the number of legal cases alleging that businesses, universities, governments, and other organizations have violated the ADA.
One such lawsuit targeted one of the largest tax preparation companies in the U.S., H&R Block. The initial lawsuit was filed against H&R Block in April 2013 by the National Federation of the Blind, claiming that the company’s website did not provide equal accessibility to alternative technologies, such as screen readers and Braille displays.
In December of that year, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it would join the lawsuit against H&R Block, and in April 2014 the parties announced that they had reached a settlement. Under the terms of the settlement, H&R Block was required to work to make its website and mobile apps compliant with the Level AA criteria of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 over the next five years.
Given that H&R Block files one in six tax returns in the U.S., the settlement will make it easier for millions of people to complete their taxes.
How are State Governments Helping with Web Accessibility?
Of course, most people pay state and local taxes in addition to federal taxes, and several state governments are taking the lead by making their tax preparation systems more accessible. For example, Virginia Tax and the New York Department of Taxation and Finance both include accessibility statements on their website.
By providing accessibility statements, users of these systems are able to better understand these organizations’ approach to web accessibility. The statements also include contact information if users require additional assistance while navigating the website.
Preparing and paying taxes is an essential part of most U.S. adults’ lives. By making the websites of public and private tax preparation services more accessible, these organizations can measurably improve the quality of life for millions of Americans with disabilities. Follow the Bureau of Internet Accessibility blog for more information and news about web accessibility.