A Small Question for the Social Security Administration

The disability insurance system operated by the federal SSA blows away all such state-level programmes in terms of competence and efficiency. That said, I nonetheless wish to make one small suggestion for improvement.

Yesterday, I read a letter from SSA sent to a blind loved one, announcing that the recipient’s eligibility for continued benefit payments was being re-evaluated. There was an address to which further documentation of disability could be submitted, as well as, quite helpfully, a phone number for recipients who could not understand the review process.

The snag was that all of this information was printed flat and in regular sized type, meaning that most blind people couldn’t read it. A blind friend in the UK tells me this is the common practice of many disability agencies here as well.

SSA knows which recipients are blind. How hard would it be to put Braille and large print version in their communications to visually impaired recipients, not all of whom have someone like me to read their mail to them?

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

9 thoughts on “A Small Question for the Social Security Administration”

    1. Well you are of course right that many blind/low-vision people do not know Braille. I like your Robocall idea, especially if it gave people the option of hitting the keypad to get Braille, or large print, in future if they wished.

  1. Or maybe they could keep track of which recipients have irreversible conditions given current technology and just not generate letters to those people. I’m guessing that a substantial percentage of blind people would qualify.

  2. doretta – The frequency of reviews is (at least in theory) linked to the probability of recovery. From http://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/cfr20/404/404-1590.htm:

    “(d) Frequency of review. If your impairment is expected to improve, generally we will review your continuing eligibility for disability benefits at intervals from 6 months to 18 months following our most recent decision. Our notice to you about the review of your case will tell you more precisely when the review will be conducted. If your disability is not considered permanent but is such that any medical improvement in your impairment(s) cannot be accurately predicted, we will review your continuing eligibility for disability benefits at least once every 3 years. If your disability is considered permanent, we will review your continuing eligibility for benefits no less frequently than once every 7 years but no more frequently than once every 5 years. Regardless of your classification, we will conduct an immediate continuing disability review if a question of continuing disability is raised pursuant to paragraph (b) of this section.”

  3. Evelyn Waugh gave his wonderful satire on American funerary practices the title of “The Loved One”, assuming that his readers would respond with a cringe at this saccharine Yankee hypocrisy. You don’t have to love or even like the members of your family to accept responsibility for their lives and mourn their deaths.

  4. Every department, including SSA, must begin to hoard their monies when Austerians rule. “We at the Highway Maintenance Dept. barely have money to cover our own salaries, so there’s no extra money for concrete, asphalt. The last bit of extra was spent on mothballing the trucks and bulldozers. Now it’s sit and wait.”

  5. You cannot expect rationality from anyone who works in this kind of bureaucracy. If s/he ever had any, it was extinguished years ago. I lived in Boston for while and licensed a male dog. The fee was lower if the dog had been neutered. I submitted proof of castration and current rabies. Fine. The next year I sent a new rabies certificate and a copy of the castration certificate. The application was rejected because– wait for it– I needed a CURRENT proof of castration. I worked downtown, so I dropped by the Animal Control Office and asked if they really thought that testicles grew back. No one did. But the boss had made a rule, and well, you know how that goes. I’m proud to say that in Cambridge, the brilliant animal control folks know you only need to castrate once.

  6. I wonder if this is conceptually related to those wistful letters I get occasionally from my health insurance company asking if I have any other insurance… And threatening to assume I do, and stop actually covering me in return for the premiums, if I don’t promptly respond in the negative.

    IOW, maybe they’re hoping to save money by not getting a response from some of the blind.

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