February25,2015

Services at the IRS for People with Disabilities

A photo of Kathy Davis.

By Guest Blogger Kathy Davis, a Lead Senior Communications Specialist in the Wage and Investment Division of the Internal Revenue Service 

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) understands the growing need to ensure individuals with disabilities receive equal access to tax assistance and financial education information. We have established guidance, programs and policies to support taxpayers with disabilities, as we are aware that they face unique challenges when attempting to meet tax obligations.

To address these challenges, the IRS provides many services that help all taxpayers – and those with disabilities often find these services particularly helpful.

Free Tax Preparation Services:

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (VITA/TCE) programs offer free tax return preparation generally to people who make $53,000 or less. IRS-trained volunteers provide free service along with electronic filing to qualified taxpayers.

The IRS community partners host VITA/TCE tax return preparation sites across the country, helping those who cannot do their own returns or afford paid preparers. Last year, our VITA/TCE sites prepared more than 3.6 million tax returns. This resulted in nearly $4 billion in refunds. Taxpayers who took advantage of this free service also saved money in return preparation fees. More than 500,000 of the 3.6 million returns were prepared for people with disabilities.

Read More about Services at the IRS for People with Disabilities

February23,2015

Building a Workforce That Reflects the People We Serve

Photo of Katherine Archuleta, Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management

By Guest Blogger Katherine Archuleta, Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management

Four years ago, President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order (E.O.) stressing the importance of hiring people with disabilities in the federal government. He set a goal of hiring 100,000 people with disabilities. I am proud to say that we are more than halfway toward reaching that milestone.

The Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) latest report on the employment of people with disabilities shows that the federal government has hired people with disabilities at a higher rate than at any time in the past 33 years. In fiscal year 2013, 18 percent of new federal hires were people with disabilities, a 1.9 percent increase over fiscal year 2012. In the first three years of enacting the E.O., we have hired a total of 57,491 permanent employees with disabilities. Because of the hard work and dedication of federal employees and the disability community, we have made outstanding progress toward meeting the President’s goal.

But the E.O. on hiring people with disabilities is one of many initiatives aimed at building a workforce that reflects the bright mosaic of the American people we serve. It is strengthened by President Obama’s efforts to increase the number of veterans serving in the federal government. It is bolstered by the President’s POWER Initiative, which ensures reemployment of people injured in the workplace. And it is a critical component of OPM’s new Recruitment, Engagement, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) Roadmap, which reflects our commitment to the People and Culture pillar of the President’s Management Agenda.

Read More about Building a Workforce That Reflects the People We Serve

February20,2015

Kindness Matters

Melanie Schmitz, Social Media Officer, Random Acts

By Guest Blogger Melanie Schmitz, Social Media Officer, Random Acts

In 2010 following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, a simple call to action by actor and director Misha Collins resulted in supporter donations of more than $30,000 towards regional relief efforts and sparked the beginning of what would eventually become the nonprofit Random Acts. By 2010, the nonprofit had established itself as a force for good in the world, encouraging global supporters to do more than simply donate funds — rather to get out and change their communities for the better by performing small, spontaneous acts of kindness.

Since that time, Random Acts has established a number of programs, destination projects and awards to motivate its supporters and pave the way for them to be successful in their endeavors. One such program is the Annual Melee of Kindness (AMOK), held each spring.

Each AMOK weekend, supporters are asked to spend the day performing acts of kindness — whether that’s bringing coffee to tired hospital employees or reading books to neighborhood children. Acts range from simple gestures of love to large-scale, pre-planned projects funded by the nonprofit itself.

Read More about Kindness Matters

February18,2015

We Are Lions: Supporting Artists with disABILITIES

We Are Lions Logo: A graphic design of a lion with a crown and the text "Roar Loud!"

By Guest Blogger Brian McMahon, a Philanthropic Liaison and Business Development Consultant for We Are Lions

In the special needs community, we are often faced with disheartening statistics. A couple examples being the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ January 2015 report that just 17.3 percent of individuals with disabilities were employed or the National Center for Learning Disabilities’ survey showing 45 percent of parents reported their children with learning disabilities were bullied in the past year. The list gets grimmer the deeper we dig. One thing is clear, there is an unfortunate lack of opportunities and understanding for people with disabilities in modern society.

However, I’m not here to discuss statistics. The beautiful people (not numbers) that make up this community deserve much more than that. What I am here to discuss is how silence is the root cause of many of these problems—and a new conversation that is capable of ending it.

The disability community is silenced on a variety of levels. Some, not only in the literal sense because they may not communicate the way someone without a disability would, but also in the way that they are marginalized by society. People with developmental disabilities are often so detached from mainstream society that those with no exposure to the community are unaware of how creative, and even relatable, these individuals are. It is stigma and indifference caused by this silence that leads so many individuals with disabilities to unemployment. We also see silence for mental illness; people afraid to speak out, to ask for help and sadly, the consequences can be very morbid.

Read More about We Are Lions: Supporting Artists with disABILITIES

February11,2015

Making Images Accessible to People Who Are Blind

Mel Finefrock lying, ironically, amidst stacks of printed books and smiling while pretending to read one upside-down.

By Guest Blogger Mel Finefrock, Editor and Freelance Writer

When it comes to photodocumentation via social media, many unknowingly describe their photos by accompanying them with little anecdotes like “Grandma and me at her 80th birthday celebration.” These sorts of descriptions add meaning to photos for all who view them, but perhaps especially for people who are blind.

When it comes to mainstream Web design though, people often overlook labeling or describing their graphics, leaving individuals who are blind at a loss for understanding the significance of them. My hope in writing this article is to encourage the use of image description and demystify the process of implementing it.

Alternative Text

There are two ways to approach describing your graphics, the first of which being alternative text, better known as alt text. What is alt text? Although it’s originally intended to serve as a placeholder for graphics in the event that a visitor to your website cannot download them, the neat thing about alt text is that screenreading software, such as JAWS (Freedom Scientific), Window-Eyes (GW Micro), NVDA (NV Access) and VoiceOver (Apple), pick up on these labels and give people who are blind feedback as to the nature of the image. As such, alt text is a great way to implement image descriptions and make your website more accessible to screenreader users.

Read More about Making Images Accessible to People Who Are Blind