Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Bridges Blog Financial Resources Series: Access April 2024

Accessibility of the New “IRS Free File” Tools: Is Free File Free and Easy for Everyone?

Access April with Our Bridges Resource Library

This month we take a deep dive into what may be the most important need of blind and low-vision people in our current Information Age: ACCESS. Accessible assistive technology (AAT) is great, but it’s only a tool to access the materials we need. We need to know how to use our technology, determine whether or not something is accessible, and advocate for the access we need if necessary.

  • April 2: Accessibility of the New “IRS Free File” Tools
  • April 9: Chris’ Favorite JAWS Power Moves
  • April 16: Awesome JAWS Access Tools: Convenient OCR and Voice Assistant
  • April 23: JAWS Picture Smart AI Feature April 30: Chatting About Chat GPT

For this first installment, we’re following up on our last series about money and taxes by asking our project coordinator, Chris Nusbaum, to test out the IRS’s new Free File software and write a review from an accessibility perspective. Note: Chris tested Free File, so the review uses first-person writing.

What is Free File?

A January 2024 IRS News Release announced new Free File software and described it as “one of many free options available to taxpayers for filing their returns either online or in person.” According to the IRS’ summary of how Free File works:

“Each IRS Free File provider sets its own eligibility rules for products based on age, income and state residency. Taxpayers with an AGI [adjusted gross income] of $79,000 or less in 2023 will find a product that matches their needs. Some providers also offer free state return preparation. Active-duty military can use any IRS Free File product if their AGI was $79,000 or less in 2023.”

It is important to note that the IRS says that Free File is best for people who are comfortable using IRS forms and documents to prepare their own documents. I’m still very new to this process, and my taxes have changed since I moved. I am now a contractor rather than an employee of a company, so I prefer to prepare my taxes with the help of an accountant. Alternative fee-based services walk users through the process step-by-step, but they might not always be accessible to screen reader users. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out to the free Bridges Helpdesk to discuss your options. Though none of us are CPAs, we are taxpayers, and we would be glad to chat with you about how to make tax season a little less stressful.

A Review of Free File

Let’s start with the specifications. For this test, I used JAWS 2023 on a laptop running Windows 10 using the Google Chrome browser. In my experience, this has been a stable combination on federal websites in general and forms in particular.

I first noticed that the Free File page linked to in the news release is actually an information page, and that page has a multi-layered series of menus and submenus which are sometimes read strangely by JAWS. This page is useful for those who want to know all their options, both electronic and paper; however, the quickest way to get to the actual electronic filing service is this link to the IRS’ E-file Options to File Your Return web page. Once there, I explored the page and found that I could start the process most efficiently by either navigating by button (by pressing B) or by bringing up the form field dialogue (Insert plus F5) until I found the button labeled “Try IRS Free File.”

Available Options

Once on the page to try Free File, I had 2 options: to use their “guided tax software” or use their PDF fillable forms. Basically, the software does the work for us, while the forms require us to do more of the work.

Unfortunately for those of us looking to prepare our taxes with as little work as possible, the PDF fillable forms seem to be the most usable option.

  • While I would not call Free File’s software inaccessible, the pages seemed a bit cluttered to me and there were sections involving calculations that were not read as clearly as I would have liked.
  • Many of us may already be familiar with filling out PDF fillable forms; they work best with Adobe Acrobat, which causes JAWS to read them like a Web page.

Concluding Thoughts

There is certainly no shortage of resources for people who still need to prepare their taxes as the April 15 deadline looms. If you are comfortable enough with IRS processes and willing to either try something new or use the PDF fillable forms, Free File can be a good choice—after all, it’s free. This sets it apart from other services like accountants and commercially available tax preparation software. But its drawbacks lead us to conclude that free isn’t always better.

We want to hear about your experiences if you choose to give it a try. If you have questions about taxes, accessibility, or anything else we can assist you with, reach out to our Helpdesk anytime!

Please check out the Bridges Technical Assistance Center Resource Library today!

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, please contact the Bridges Technical Assistance Center’s Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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