News

Judge orders Social Security notices for blind to be in Braille or on CDs

Ruling will affect 3 million blind or partially-sighted individuals

A federal judge in San Francisco yesterday ordered the U.S. Social Security Administration to send benefit notices to blind and partially sighted people in Braille or on CDs that can be converted to speech.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge William Alsup will affect about 3 million blind and partially sighted people nationwide who receive Social Security benefits.

Alsup said in a 41-page ruling that the agency's current notification methods,mail with the option of a follow-up phone call, violate federal law because they do not provide "effective communication."

The judge wrote, "(The) Social Security Administration has not provided meaningful access for its ... programs to all blind and visually impaired individuals as required" by the U.S. Rehabilitation Act.

The decision follows a two-week nonjury trial held before Alsup last month on a lawsuit filed in 2005 by the American Council of the Blind and eight individuals.

Alsup ordered the agency to offer recipients the option to be given notices and other communications in either Braille or CDs that can be used with text-to-speech technology by April 15.

Mitch Pomerantz, president of the Washington, D.C.-based American Council of the Blind, said, "This is a great civil rights victory."

Pomerantz said in a statement, "Blind people across the country have been trying for years to get SSA to send notices in a format we can read, and up until this ruling, we have been resoundingly ignored."

Representatives of the Social Security Administration were not immediately available for comment late today.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of blind and visually impaired people who receive Social Security payments through either the Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance program or the Supplemental Security Income program.

Last year, Alsup certified the case as a nationwide class action on behalf of all such recipients.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Parent of disabled adult
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2009 at 2:44 pm

Social Security notices are often so complicated that being able to physically read them is not necessarily a plus. Often the reason for an action is totally obscure. For example, my autistic son got a notice out of the blue that he was being sent an extra $151. Then two months later he got a notice that the overpayment of $151 was being deducted from his next check. My son does not have the ability to understand these notices.
This incident was entirely a matter of their internal accounting and he should have never been bothered with it. He had spent the $151 of course.


Like this comment
Posted by Grace
a resident of Highland Oaks
on Oct 21, 2009 at 8:50 pm

I have to agree with the previous comment -- my mother is legally blind and has received some services for that disability in the past. However, now she has advanced Alzheimer's and dementia and could not possibly understand or benefit from receiving the information regarding Social Security in a new, alternate form. I take care of all of her medical issues and finances, but because she has been registered as having a visual disability, the Social Security Administration will now, if I'm reading this ruling correctly, be required by law to go to the additional effort and expense of providing the information to her (ME) in this alternate format... without our even requesting it! Seems a more rational ruling would be to make this an available alternative, *upon request*, and not assume that this additional expense and effort is desired/necessary.


Like this comment
Posted by Grace
a resident of Highland Oaks
on Oct 21, 2009 at 8:53 pm

My apologies -- I was responding to the earlier comment and reading the headline, then the article too quickly and missed the key sentence regarding the option, not the mandate:

"Alsup ordered the agency to offer recipients the option to be given notices and other communications in either Braille or CDs that can be used with text-to-speech technology by April 15."


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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