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H&R Block, others to offer Net tax services to blind

Four leading providers of online tax preparation services agree to make their Web sites accessible to the sight-impaired.

Four leading providers of online tax preparation services have agreed to make their Web sites accessible to the sight-impaired, the National Federation of the Blind said today.

Intuit, HDVest, H&R Block and CioCia will begin offering online services to the blind in time for next season's tax deadline. The companies voluntarily agreed to offer the service after they were requested to do so by the NFB and the Connecticut attorney general, according to NFB president Marc Maurer.

"The Internal Revenue Service has been urging people to file taxes electronically," he said in an interview. "They've told us they want 80 percent of all filings to come electronically by 2002. Yet the people who wrote the tax programs did so without making them accessible to the blind."

The NFB in recent months has stepped up its efforts to ensure that the blind can make use of the explosion of online services.

In November, the group sued America Online, alleging that the world's most popular online service doesn't work with software designed for the visually impaired. It is believed to be the first suit aimed at prompting Internet companies to provide services for the blind.

Maurer said the group is in the process of reviewing other Web sites that do not offer accessibility to the visually impaired. He said the group plans to go after the "most egregious cases."

Maurer said the group's goal is to encourage software and Web developers to consider accessibility as an integral part of their designs, rather than as something that is added later.

"If you do it at the beginning, it's very cheap," he said. "If you can get very expensive."