[nfbmi-talk] SSA told to modernize for nation's blind!!!

fred olver goodfolks at charter.net
Wed Oct 21 07:23:53 CDT 2009


http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/10/20/MNQ21
A8D2F.DTL&t
ype=printable

Social Security told to modernize for the blind

Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

(10-20) 17:17 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- The Social Security 
Administration must
give the nation's 3 million blind or visually impaired recipients 
the option
of receiving benefit notices in braille or by audio computer 
disc, a federal
judge in San Francisco said Tuesday.

Ruling in a nationwide class-action suit, U.S.  District Judge 
William Alsup
said that by sending notices only by mail and phone calls, the 
agency is
violating
a law that guarantees the disabled equal access to its programs.  
He ordered
the government to make the additional choices available by April 
15.

The case involves some of the 100 million notices the Social 
Security
Administration sends each year to its 61 million beneficiaries, 
advising
them of scheduled
appointments, program changes, tax filings and possible benefit 
cuts.

About 250,000 Americans receive benefits because of blindness, 
and another
2.7 million blind or sight-impaired people get Social Security 
for other
reasons.

Under rules authorized by Congress in 1988 and 1990, they can 
choose to be
notified of agency actions by mail, with a follow-up phone call, 
or by
certified
mail with a return receipt.  Those who make no choice are 
contacted by mail
without a phone call.

Alsup said the current system may have been effective 20 years 
ago, but no
longer provides the "meaningful access" the law requires, in 
light of
advanced
technology.

Little evidence was presented that blind people had lost benefits 
because of
inadequate notice, Alsup said, but the current system is 
ineffective for at
least some recipients.

For example, he said, a blind person who needs to respond to a 
written
notice must wait until someone is available to read it aloud, and 
may have
problems
meeting government deadlines.

Alsup said the Social Security Administration refused to 
acknowledge that it
was even covered by the anti-discrimination law until after the 
suit was
filed
in 2005, and "has been quick to find lame excuses for 
noncompliance."

The agency must inform all blind and visually impaired recipients 
by Dec.  31
that they will have the choice of getting notices in braille or 
by Microsoft
Word CD in mid-April, Alsup said.  He said those who want another 
option,
such as notification by e-mail, must be allowed to request it and 
show why
they
need it.

"This is a huge benefit," said attorney Silvia Yee of the 
Disability Rights
Education and Defense Fund in Berkeley, a lawyer for the 
plaintiffs.  She
said
the ruling will allow many recipients "to have an independence in 
working
with the (Social Security Administration) that they've never had 
before."

Many sight-impaired recipients, particularly the young and those 
who become
blind later in life, can't read braille, Yee said, "but for 
people who do
read
braille, it's their first choice." She said the CD option would 
particularly
help younger recipients.

Lowell Kepke, spokesman for the Social Security Administration's 
regional
office in Richmond, said the agency "will review the order and 
take whatever
actions
are appropriate."

E-mail Bob Egelko at
begelko at sfchronicle.com.



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