The Internal Revenue Service took an average of 70 days to accommodate requests by disabled employees for adaptive technology, according to a new report, even though it’s only supposed to take 15 days unless there are extenuating circumstances.

The report, from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, noted that federal agencies, including the IRS, are required by Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities who need them. 

The Treasury Department and the IRS have established clear time limits for providing reasonable accommodations for disabled employees—15 business days for IRS employees and 20 business days for Treasury employees—unless extenuating circumstances exist. According to both Treasury and IRS policy, when a request has extenuating circumstances, the time for processing the request and providing the accommodation will be extended as necessary. However, such extensions should be rare.

TIGTA found, though, that the IRS designated 97 percent of all reasonable accommodation requests involving adaptive technology with the issue code 836, Special Equipment & Assistive Device – IRAP, as having at least one extenuating circumstance, making them exempt from a time limit. Thus, it took an average of 70 business days in fiscal years 2013 and 2014 to close requests for adaptive technology made by employees with disabilities.

In fiscal years 2013 and 2014, approximately 86 percent of the 836 Requests were due to disabilities related to non-paralytic orthopedic impairments, vision, and hearing. Fifty percent of the requests were for IRS employees with non paralytic orthopedic impairments, such as back pain, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, or tendonitis. Another quarter of the requests (26 percent) were related to employees’ vision, such as blindness or vision loss. Hearing-related disabilities, such as deafness and hard of hearing, comprised 10 percent of the requests. Requests included special equipment for computers and ergonomic devices.

Still, IRS employees for the most part were not overly upset at the delays. Seventy-three percent of the IRS employees who completed an internal IRS reasonable accommodation survey said they were satisfied with the IRS’s reasonable accommodation process. Thirty of the 36 IRS employees who requested adaptive technology accommodations that TIGTA interviewed indicated that they were generally satisfied with the IRS’s reasonable accommodation process; however, 16 of the employees interviewed stated the delays resulted in down time or inefficiencies in their work.

TIGTA did not make any recommendations in the report because the IRS is currently reassessing its reasonable accommodation processes and procedures, including its definition of extenuating circumstances.

In response to the report, the IRS said it is addressing the findings. “Given the work involved in improving procurement and other related processes, establishing timeframes based on real-world conditions and experience as well as the need to bargain, the draft evaluation report’s references to the IRS concluding its process assessment by October 2015 and establishing new timeframes by January 2016 appear overly optimistic,” wrote Susan B. Greer, acting executive director of equity, diversity and inclusion at the IRS. “The IRS recognizes however that time is of the essence and is committed to revamping its reasonable accommodations processes and metrics promptly.”

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