On October 20, 2009, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California partially ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit American Council of the Blind v. Astrue. The class action was brought under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a civil rights statute that protects people with disabilities. The class action challenged the effectiveness of alternative modes of communication by SSA in its notices and other communications to title II and title XVI blind or visually impaired applicants, beneficiaries, recipients, and representative payees.
The Court held that to comply with Section 504 “for all notices and other communications with blind or visually impaired and title II and title XVI recipients and authorized representatives, defendants shall develop and shall offer a Braille alternative and a navigable Microsoft (MS) Word CD alternative no later than April 15, 2010.” In a subsequent order, the Court extended this date to May 24, 2010.
NOTE: The term “authorized representatives” in the Court’s order refers to title II and title XVI representative payees.
The Court also ruled that SSA is required under a Section 504 regulation, 45 CFR 85.51 , to receive and rule on requests for alternative accommodations (including other notice formats) made by title II and title XVI blind or visually impaired applicants, beneficiaries, recipients, and representative payees.
In a subsequent order, the Court also held that after May 24, 2010, no Social Security benefits may be reduced or terminated to any person who is shown in the SSA records to be blind or visually impaired (or whose authorized payee is shown to be blind or visually impaired) unless SSA first provided the person a notice in the person’s approved alternative format.