By: Dennis Walsh
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Here are some suggestions from my experience as a visually-impaired practitioner regarding the accessibility environment and IT accessibility in particular:
- Develop an accessibility policy, communicate it to clients and employees, place it conspicuously on your website and other materials about the firm, and most importantly practice it. See the link below for an example of such a document.
- Invite feedback from clients and employees as to what types of accommodations they need in terms of technology and facilities, while keeping in mind that the law does not require you to make any accommodation that would place an undue hardship on the firm.
- Engage in an interactive process with employees you either know or perceive to be disabled. You may not be able to provide every accommodation needed without incurring a hardship, but demonstrating concern goes a long way in maintaining employee productivity, morale, and avoiding costly and disruptive disputes which may result in lawsuits or adverse regulatory actions.
- Remember that every request for an accommodation is unique and should be evaluated individually.
- Orient staff on how to interact with a disabled person in a manner that offers needed help, while remaining sensitive to personal dignity. Most disabled persons strive to be independent and do not seek unnecessary assistance or accommodations.
- Newsletters, electronic tax organizers, and other firm resources accessed by clients or employees should be made available in file types such as text, html, or PDF, which are generally screen-reader friendly. Scanned images in particular are problematic in that they must be initially converted to text using optical character recognition (OCR) software in order to be interpreted by a screen-reader.
- Advise web developers that you expect products to be accessible to people using assistive technology in accordance with the W3C standards of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). If a vendor is not acquainted with the W3C standards, this may be cause for concern.
- Consult legal counsel as needed to determine any required disability related laws. Keep good records of interaction with clients and employees on such matters.
- Stay apprised of ADA developments as well as state laws protecting persons with disabilities.
- If possible, appoint an individual in the firm to monitor disability law developments and to serve as a disability needs contact.
- See this example of a well written accessibility policy of a major financial institution.
- For a discussion of common accessibility issues encountered with tax preparation software provided by industry leading vendors, see my recent contribution to Access World titled “Evaluating IRS Free File.”
- For the more technically minded, see this excellent primer on website accessibility from Jim Thatcher, the seminal expert on screen-reader technology.
Through The Micah Project, Dennis Walsh, CPA, serves as a volunteer consultant to religious workers and exempt organizations, focusing on financial management, legal compliance, and organizational development. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, he completed the Duke University certificate program in nonprofit management. Dennis is the author of “Legal & Tax Issues for North Carolina Nonprofits” and has written for various nonprofit publications. He actively volunteers with the Guilford Nonprofit Consortium, the Not-for-Profit Committee of NCACPA, and for the accounting assistance program of the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits. He can be reached at [email protected].