A Reminder to Social Security Beneficiaries: You Have New Rights in the New Year by Melanie Brunson

by Melanie Brunson

A recent issue of "The Braille Forum" outlined the court order in the case American Council of the Blind v. Astrue. In that case, the Social Security Administration was ordered to begin providing Social Security beneficiaries and representative payees who are blind or visually impaired notices in alternate formats. SSA was ordered to mail notices to all beneficiaries whose records indicate that they are blind or visually impaired by Dec. 31, 2009, informing them of the options available to them. If you are blind or visually impaired and either receive benefits yourself under Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or you receive benefits as a representative payee for someone else, you can ask the Social Security Administration to send you notices in another format, even if they have not notified you of this option. In fact, people who have visual impairments can request information in alternate formats at the time they apply for any benefits from the Social Security Administration.

In an effort to insure that we get the word out about the important options that are now available from SSA, I have decided to print the text of the letters SSA sent to blind and visually impaired beneficiaries in this article. Even if you did not receive this letter, please follow the procedures listed below if you would benefit from receiving your correspondence from SSA in an alternate format, and make your request.

The text of the letter outlining options and procedures for requesting them reads as follows.

We are writing to you because our records show that you are blind or visually impaired and you are covered by a recent court decision. The court case, American Council of the Blind v. Astrue, recognizes that you have the right under federal law (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act) to ask for notices and other information about your benefits from us in a format in addition to print.

This notice tells you how you can ask for your preferred format. The information in this notice is also on our web site at www.socialsecurity.gov/notices. You can also listen to a recording of this notice by calling toll-free at 1-877-708-1776. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you may call our TTY number at 1-800-325-0778.

If you already have chosen to get your notices by means of a telephone call, we will call you to read this notice to you by February 1, 2010. Formats We Automatically Provide Upon Request

By law, we must always consider your request for your preferred format. We automatically grant requests for the formats listed below:

1. Standard print notice by first class or certified mail; or 

2. Standard print notice by first class mail and a follow-up telephone call to read the notices to you within five business days of the date you get the print notice; or

3. Standard print notice and braille by first class mail (delivery begins April 15, 2010); or

4. Standard print notice and a Microsoft Word compact disc by first class mail (delivery begins April 15, 2010). The compact disc may be used on a computer that has the software needed to access Word, but not in an audio CD player.

To select one of the formats we automatically provide, please contact us through one of the following ways:

Visit our web site at www.socialsecurity.gov/notices and follow the steps provided;

Call us toll-free at 1-877-708-1776. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you may call our TTY number at 1-800-325-0778; or

Write or visit your local Social Security office. Other Preferred Formats 

If the formats listed above do not work for you, you may ask for another format. To ask for another format, please call 1-800-772-1213 so that we can begin processing your request. We will consider your request and decide if we can provide it according to court-approved guidelines. If we decide against your request, we will send you the reasons in writing and the method of appealing the decision. Your Privacy

We collect personal information (such as your name, e-mail address, Social Security number, or date of birth) only as necessary to administer our programs. When you request a preferred notice format, we will ask you for personal information to verify who you are and to ensure that we correctly process your request. We will use the information you provide only for those purposes or as otherwise permitted by law. We do not ask you to send us personal information by e-mail to request a preferred notice format. We do not ask you for credit card information to request a preferred notice format. What You Need to Do

If you are satisfied with the way you currently get your notices and other information about your benefits from us, you do not need to do anything. If you would like an alternative to your current format for receiving notices, please follow the procedures described above.

It is important that people take advantage of this right now that we have fought for it and won! If you have any questions and can’t find answers by calling SSA or searching their web site, please feel free to contact the ACB national office at (202) 467-5081 or 1-800-424-8666.