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Tax firm specializes in services for deaf filers

Two women conversing in ASL_pexels-shvets-production-7516574
Conversations in American Sign Language (ASL) are common. Getting tax help from preparers fluent in ASL, not so common, despite a large hearing impaired or deaf taxpayer community. (Photo by SHVETS production)

The U.S. Census Bureau's 2021 American Community Survey (ACS) says about 3.6 percent of the U.S. population, or about 11 million individuals, consider themselves deaf or have serious difficulty hearing.

The Hearing Loss Association of America estimates that 48 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss.

Deafness not only affects individuals, but also their families and friends, their jobs, and yes, taxes.

IRS options for deaf taxpayers: The Internal Revenue Service offers telephone assistance for deaf and hard of hearing individuals with TTY/TDD equipment. TTY/TDD users may call (800) 829-4059 to ask tax questions or to order IRS forms and publications. Deaf or hard of hearing taxpayers using a relay service may call any of the IRS' toll-free numbers.

The IRS also provides 80 American Sign Language (ASL) friendly videos via its YouTube channel on a variety to tax topics.

Sometimes, though, taxpayers find they need personal help.

However, taxpayers with hearing issues often find getting tax help is difficult. DeafTax is out to change that.

DeafTax fills tax help vacancy: Joshua Beal, who is deaf, helped created DeafTax at Schwarz Financial Services in Washington, D.C., in 2007. Beal and his partner Charles Sterling, spun off DeafTax in 2018 from the financial services firm, thanks to an investment from the nonprofit Communication Service for the Deaf's social venture fund.

DeafTax has taken off, notes a recent Accounting Today article (available to subscribers), with revenue growth of 231 percent and a client count increase of 164 percent over a five-year period.

While that's great business news for Beal, but the company's focus on an underserved tax clientele is his real motivation.

"I always had the attitude of helping the community," Beal told Accounting Today managing editor Danielle Lee. "Maybe I missed out on more money, but that's OK. I've given a lot of opportunity to other deaf people … . The culture I built is hiring deaf people, supporting deaf people, and serving our own community."

Mainly online offerings: Currently, DeafTax services primarily are provided online. The service can be accessed by a mobile device, including iPhone, Android, iPad, or any desktop computer. Its website says it "has streamlined the delivery of tax preparation services to be as simple as possible with accessible communication in ASL with a trained tax professional," as well as through ASL videos.

According to the firm's website, DeafTax handles all types of personal tax preparation services for individuals, married couples, and trusts to businesses, non-profits, and small corporations in all 50 U.S. states.

The company's employees work at home, relying mainly on video relay service (VRS) videophones, Beal told Accounting Today. However, he noted, increased use of mobile apps have broadened communication possibilities

After signing up and receiving an email invitation to log on, you upload your tax documents through DeafTax's online portal. Your tax preparer begins work on your return. A subsequent appointment lets you ask your preparer any questions, as well as gives the preparer a chance to discuss tax issues that may need to be addressed.

After your tax return is prepared, you'll get a copy and an electronic signature file. Once you review your Form 1040 and electronically sign it, it will be e-filed.

Sounds pretty much like a typical tax preparation and filing process. But for DeafTax clients, the communication process accommodates their needs in ways many (probably most) tax firms cannot.

Looking to expand: DeafTax currently employs eight deaf tax professionals, including founders Beal and Sterling, who are ASL fluent. They serving nearly 300 clients, 95 percent of whom are deaf.

"We would like to continue growing DeafTax, as there is still a large unmet need for professional tax preparation services in the U.S. deaf community," Beal told Accounting Today.

For now, though, the company's current customer base — nearly 300, with 95 percent of those taxpayers deaf — earn this weekend's By the Numbers honors.

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