by Melanie Brunson

I have told you in a previous issue about the recent court decision that requires the Social Security Administration to provide correspondence in certain alternate formats to individuals who are blind or visually impaired and either receive Social Security benefits, or act as representative payees for Social Security beneficiaries. There have been some new developments in this case since we last discussed it here, so readers who fall into one of the groups I just mentioned should pay close attention to the information that follows.

The deadline by which the Social Security Administration was supposed to begin implementing this mandate was originally April 15, 2010. That deadline for compliance has been extended to May 24, 2010. Those who have made requests for information in braille or documents in Microsoft Word format on a CD should begin receiving most of their notices and letters in the format they have requested after May 24, 2010. However, local field offices have until the end of September 2010 to begin sending out certain notices that they generate themselves in the formats that beneficiaries have requested.

One very significant change that has taken place recently is that beginning sometime in 2011, the Social Security Administration intends to provide the additional formats of large print and audio CD automatically to those who request them. Due to the number of requests they have received for documents in these formats, they decided to add them to the list of formats that would be granted automatically upon request. Until they can begin providing these formats, the Social Security Administration will provide an interim alternate format of either telephone call, certified mail, or standard mail before May 24, 2010 and either a telephone call and standard print letter, certified mail, standard mail, braille, or Microsoft Word on a CD after May 24, 2010.

There is no time limit for when requests can be made. I have some further information about how to do it for those who have not yet acted, but may wish to do so. I also have some important information for those of you who have requested that information be sent to you in a format other than braille and Microsoft Word on CD that were mandated by the court, or large print and audio CD that SSA will provide automatically in 2011. Please read on.

First, here is an important telephone number: 1-877-708-1776. Call this phone number to either listen to a recording of the notice about the court decision that was sent out by the Social Security Administration, or to make a request for notices in either braille or Microsoft Word CD. Remember that requests for the formats mentioned above must be granted by Social Security. They will also automatically grant requests for notices and other information to be sent by certified mail or communicated by means of a telephone call. Requests can also be made online by going to Social Security's web site, and following the steps provided. Individuals who have hearing impairments can call Social Security's TTY number, 1-800-325-0778. Finally, local Social Security offices can process these requests if you want to visit them in person. We hope and expect that soon individuals will also be able to request large print and audio CD by calling the number mentioned above, though as of now they still have to call the regular SSA 800 number mentioned below.

If braille, Microsoft Word on a CD, telephone call and standard print letter, certified mail or standard mail do not work for you, you have a right under this court ruling to request that notices and other information be sent to you in another format, such as large print, cassette tape, or audio CD. As mentioned above, beginning in 2011 SSA will begin to provide large print and audio CD automatically. As of now, if you desire large print, audio CD, or any other format including audio cassette, you must call Social Security's regular toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213. If you request large print or audio CD, the agency employee will ask you to also choose an interim format that the agency will automatically provide while your request is pending. Once the request for large print or audio format is approved, the agency will then provide the standardized cover letter in the interim format until the means to produce notices in large print and audio formats are in place. The interim formats available beginning May 24, 2010 are: braille, Microsoft Word document on CD, telephone call and standard print letter, certified mail, or a standard print letter.

If you are requesting a format other than braille, Microsoft Word document on CD, large print, or audio CD, SSA is supposed to note your request and call you back within 30 days of the date your request was made. During this call, they will ask for your contact information, Social Security number, the alternate format you need in order to access information about your benefits, and most importantly, the reason why none of the formats that are automatically provided will work for you. Within 45 days after this phone call, you must receive a decision from Social Security. The decision granting or denying your request must be sent to you in writing, and it must be in large print.

Social Security can deny your request only if SSA personnel decide that another format is effective for you or if it would be an undue burden on Social Security to honor your request. If you do not agree with this decision, you have a right to appeal it.

I urge everyone who is considering making a request to Social Security to do so as soon as possible, and to keep track of the following information: the date the request is made; the names and locations of any SSA representatives you speak with if making the request by phone; any problems you encounter while making the request; and all follow-up contact with Social Security representatives.

The attorneys who helped us win this landmark case, the Disability Rights Education Defense Fund (DREDF), are monitoring how requests are being handled by Social Security. If you want to report any problems, provide other feedback about your experience requesting alternate format information, or discuss your options following the denial of a request, please feel free to contact them in one of the following ways: call 1-800-348-4232 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Pacific time; send an e-mail to [email protected]; or complete their online survey, which can be found at

ACB is also keeping track of any information staffers receive about how requests are being handled, so please share your experiences with us as well. You can call the national office, or send information by e-mail to [email protected].

Now that we have finally won recognition of the rights of people who are blind to receive information that is essential to their welfare in a format that they can access independently, it is important that we exercise this right. Please do not wait. Contact Social Security and make your voice heard. If you need further information first, contact me or the staff at DREDF. We will keep you posted as the implementation of this case moves ahead.

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