A two-week trial began in federal court in San Francisco today on a lawsuit filed by the American Council for the Blind against the U.S. Social Security Administration.

The lawsuit, filed in 2005, contends the agency doesn’t provide adequate communication methods for blind and partially sighted people to learn about their benefits.

The suit asks for a court order requiring the government to provide notices in accessible formats such as Braille, large print, computer disks and tape recordings.

The Social Security Administration has contended in court papers that it does provide the required “meaningful access” by sending notices through the mail, but enabling recipients to have follow-up phone calls with staff members who will explain the benefits.

Blind and partially sighted people are also allowed to have a representative help them with communications, the agency said.

The agency contends that adding other formats such as Braille and recordings would impose unreasonable financial and administrative hardship on the government.

The American Council for the Blind contends the current communication system violates the constitutional rights of blind people and a U.S. law that bars disability discrimination in federal programs.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup will decide the case without a jury after hearing two weeks of testimony.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of blind and visually impaired people who receive Social Security benefits through either the Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance program or the Supplemental Security Income program.

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