IRS making strides on helping non-English speakers and visually impaired


The Internal Revenue Service has been stepping up its efforts to provide tax information and resources to taxpayers with limited English proficiency and visual impairments, but more work is needed, according to a new report.

The report, released Monday by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, noted that in January, the IRS sent a Taxpayer Experience Strategy to Congress, which included strategies to engage with underserved communities, including taxpayers with limited English proficiency and disabilities. TIGTA found the IRS is continuing to expand the availability of tax information and resources in other languages for taxpayers with limited English proficiency (LEP) and in alternative formats for visually impaired taxpayers.

“To better assist LEP taxpayers, the IRS created Schedule LEP, Request for Change in Language Preference, for taxpayers to include with their tax return stating their language preference for communicating with the IRS, created a dedicated multilingual toll-free telephone line to assist taxpayers whose primary language is not English or Spanish, and expanded multilingual resources on IRS.gov,” said the report. “To improve assistance to visually impaired taxpayers, the IRS created a new web page on IRS.gov to provide taxpayers with information on accessibility services available, such as Braille, large print electronic documents, and audio.” The IRS has also put in place a process to capture taxpayer preferences for receiving correspondence in alternative media formats and set up a new helpline for visually impaired taxpayers.

A man wearing a protective mask rides a scooter past the Internal Revenue Service headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Samuel Corum/Bloomberg

The moves are in keeping with an effort by IRS commissioner Charles Rettig, who has often discussed at industry conferences and in congressional testimony his desire to expand the number of languages available for communicating with the IRS.

“Taxpayers who interact with an IRS representative now have access to over-the-phone interpreter services in more than 350 languages,” he said in written testimony before a congressional oversight subcommittee in March. “The IRS has also recently begun inserting information about translation services and other multilingual options into the high-volume notices we send out to taxpayers. Our diverse workforce is proud to be reflective of the diverse communities we serve.”

While the IRS has improved assistance to visually impaired taxpayers and those with limited English proficiency, the TIGTA report noted that more steps should be taken. It pointed out that the expansion timeline remains uncertain for the actual issuance of additional notices translated into other languages because the programming requests required for systemic issuance of the notices haven’t been submitted yet, nor has funding been allocated to support the expansion plans. In addition, the IRS doesn’t have a process in place for taxpayers to update their language preference by any means other than when filing a tax return. Some of the notices and letters translated into Spanish contained errors and translation inaccuracies. A process for LEP taxpayers to provide feedback with the over-the-phone translation services doesn’t exist, and the IRS hasn’t set up specific performance measures and goals to assess its efforts to help LEP and visually impaired taxpayers.

Some of the information on IRS.gov wasn’t accurately translated either, and web page links weren’t always updated on a timely basis. However, the report acknowledged that the IRS took immediate corrective action during the audit by adding a third-level review to the web page update process to make sure that translated information posted on IRS.gov is accurate and that web page links are correct.

The IRS agreed with all eight of the report’s recommendations. The IRS plans to clearly communicate to taxpayers when they can expect to receive notices and letters in their preferred language and to develop a feedback process and a measurement system to assess the overall satisfaction with the over-the-phone interpreter service.

“We have increased the products and services offered to the LEP community by expanding the inventory of tax products offered in languages other than English and added and updated content on IRS.gov,” wrote Kenneth Corbin, commissioner of the IRS’s Wage and Investment Division, in response to the report. “This has been an ongoing effort over many years as we have worked to improve taxpayer communications.”

During 2020, he noted, the IRS dramatically expanded the services to taxpayers with limited proficiency in English and created a notice that explains in 13 languages how a taxpayer can receive help from the IRS. The agency has also expanded its bilingual staffing, hiring additional language experts with strong federal tax experience who are fluent in Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian to translate its products and has also translated its annual federal income tax guide into both traditional and simplified Chinese.

To help visually impaired taxpayers, according to the report, the IRS operates an Alternative Media Center that provides hundreds of accessible products to help people who use assistive technology such as screen reading software, refreshable Braille displays, screen magnifying software, and voice recognition software. The products include tax forms, instructions, and publications that can be downloaded or viewed online in various formats, including Braille and large print. Taxpayers can also ask for paper copies of tax forms, instructions, or publications in Braille or large print by calling the tax form telephone number at (800) 829-3676.





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