In October 2009, a federal court in Northern California granted judgment for two plaintiff classes of blind and visually impaired people in American Council of the Blind v. Astrue, a case against the Social Security Administration (SSA).
The recent judgment requires SSA to provide class members with the right under federal law (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act) to ask for notices and other information about their benefits in alternate formats in addition to standard print. SSA must “phase-in” the new options under certain timeframes.
Are you a member of one of the classes?
The classes: (1) SSA applicants, beneficiaries, recipients, who are blind or visually impaired and (2) representative payees who are blind or visually impaired.
Class Counsel: Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) and Howrey LLP.
If you are a class member, did you get a notice from SSA on or about January 1, 2010 about your right to request notices and other information in your preferred alternate format?
A link to the notice in PDF and Text below:
You can call 1-877-708-1776 to listen to a recording of the notice and to request certain alternate formats, described below.
As the notice explains, there are two different approaches for requesting alternate formats depending on the type of format you request.
A) SSA will automatically grant requests for notices and other information in Braille, Microsoft Word on a CD, certified mail or a telephone call. Most notices will be available in these alternate formats by April 15, 2010. The options of certified mail or telephone call will be provided without delay, because they are not new.
If you ask for Braille or Microsoft Word on a CD, some of your notices may continue to be sent in standard print between April 15, 2010 and September 30, 2010, but any standard print notice will include a cover letter in your indicated preference of Braille or Microsoft Word on a CD that alerts you to the fact that you are receiving an important notice from SSA.
To select one of the formats SSA automatically provides, contact SSA through one of the following ways:
· Visit SSA’s website at www.socialsecurity.gov/notices/ and follow the steps provided;
· Call SSA toll-free at 1-877-708-1776. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you may call SSA’s TTY number at 1-800-325-0778; or
· Write or visit your local Social Security office.
B) You also have a right to ask SSA to provide other formats such as large print or audio CD or cassette, if standard print, Braille, Microsoft Word on CD, certified mail or telephone do not work for you. You can begin this process at any time in the following way:
1. Call SSA at 1-800-772-1213
2. SSA will note your request and will call you back by April 15, 2010. If you make your request after March 15, 2010, SSA will contact you within 30 days of your request. During this call back from SSA, SSA will ask you for your contact information, your social security number (SSN), what kind of alternate format you need to access information about your benefits, and why what SSA automatically offers -- Braille, Microsoft Word on CD, certified mail, or a phone call -- does not work for you.
3. Finally, within 45 days of the date SSA calls you back, SSA will send you its decision in large print stating whether or not your requested alternate format was granted or denied. SSA can only deny your request if it decides that another format is effective for you or if it would be an undue burden to honor your request.
Please note that some of your notices may continue to be sent in standard print between April 15, 2010 and September 30, 2010, but if your request for your preferred alternate format has been approved, any standard print notice will include a cover letter in your preferred alternate format that alerts you to the fact that you are receiving an important notice from SSA.
DREDF urges class members who want to receive an alternate format to make requests as soon as possible AND to keep track of dates of requests, the names and locations of any SSA representatives you speak with, any problems you may encounter making requests, and all follow up contact with SSA.
DREDF Monitoring Activities:
DREDF remains committed to monitoring that the court judgment is fairly implemented.
Please contact DREDF in one of the following ways: Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 1-800-348-4232 (note TTY only available during normal business hours of 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. PST).
In addition, if possible, please refer to our online survey where you can provide feedback regarding your experience requesting alternate formats at SSA at: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/68JKVW5
DREDF staff is available to assist individuals making a request for an alternate format or making a formal complaint if SSA denies a request for alternate format.
DREDF will provide more information about SSA’s further obligations to implement the Court’s Judgment in the near future.