American Council of the Blind

American Council of the Blind v. Michael Astrue, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, et. al.

On behalf of the American Council of the Blind and a group of individuals who are blind or have vision impairments, DREDF filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, California Northern District against the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA), alleging that the agency failed to provide the most basic accommodations to its blind applicants and beneficiaries. More than 30 years after federal civil rights law made the obligation clear and technological advances made alternative formats commonplace, the SSA continued to ignore the needs and rights of blind and visually impaired individuals.

In October 2009, Judge William Alsup issued a judgment in favor of the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and two classes of 3,000,000 individuals with blindness and visual impairments. The suit challenged the SSA’s  failure to provide its critical benefits communications to recipients in alternative formats that would enable people with visual impairments to have equal access to SSA programs as required by federal disability civil rights laws.

This ruling signaled a major victory for the disability rights movement, and it set a precedent for the obligations of other federal and state agencies to accommodate people who are blind or have visual impairments. The SSA sends out 390 million notices and forms each year. Plaintiffs won the right to receive communications in a format that is accessible to them, and Judge Alsup ruled that these formats, at a minimum, must include Braille and CD.

Pursuant to the Judgment, SSA began outreach to notify individuals of their right to alternative formats:

Notice Informing Blind and Visually Impaired Beneficiaries, Recipients, Applicants and Representative Payees About Their Right to Alternative Formats and How to Request Alternative Formats.

As of March 2012, SSA had issued more than 250,000 alternative formats.

DREDF monitored SSA’s implementation of its response to requests for alternative format through the spring of 2013.