Talking Tax Forms Transform Tax Prep For The Blind

One doesn't often get a chance to apply the terms "innovative" and "cutting-edge" to the Internal Revenue Service, an agency that is regularly struggling to upgrade its computer and telephone answering systems to keep up with the demand for services.

But those terms fit the bill this week as the IRS announces plans to offer online tax forms that work with screen-reading software to provide "talking" tax forms for use by visually impaired taxpayers.

Traditionally, tax forms available on the Internet are provided in a Portable Document Format, otherwise known as PDF, which frustrates most screen-reading software that reads the image as a picture rather than a text file. The IRS, in cooperation with Plexus Scientific Corp. and Adobe, has developed a talking reader that picks up on tags placed in the data fields of a PDF document and then produces a spoken word version. The software pauses while the user can either type or use voice recognition software to enter information in the data field.

The new tax forms are "important because blind people want to be independent," said Michael Moore, chief of alternative media at the IRS. "What blind people are striving for is equal access." Mr. Moore is legally blind.

Expectations are for the 50 most common tax forms to be available in the new format for the coming tax season. The IRS will spend $2,000 for each form that is converted.

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