Social Security leaders are excited that they soon will have electronic folders for all disability claims, as part of a new system the agency calls the electronic disability system or “eDIB.” This means there will be no troublesome paper folders to clutter employee desks or get lost in the mail. It means that many different people in Social Security can work with a folder at the same time, speeding up decisions.
However, eDIB also means that individuals claiming disability benefits may be blindfolded when in a few months there is no longer a conventional paper folder for them to look through. Already, offices in fourteen states are using the electronic folders, the SSA Commissioner said in testimony to Congress on September 30, 2004.
The states using electronic disability folders are: Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia, according to the Social Security press office.
Lawyers and other advocates have voiced concern about folder access and have gotten some response from SSA. A representative of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR) testified in the same hearing that SSA had assured some NOSSCR members that:
“SSA will ‘burn’ a CD and send that to the appointed representative and to unrepresented claimants as well. Representatives can then print out the file or view it on their own computers. In addition, at some point in the future, SSA plans to set up a special, secure website for appointed representatives. With their assigned identification numbers, they can go online to see the contents of their clients’ folders.” 1
Not content with only an SSA commitment to provide computer disks, a witness for the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities testified in favor of offering people the ability to review their folders “online”:
“To know what is in the record at any given point during the process, we believe that optimum meaningful access requires secure online access with a ‘read-only’ capacity.” 2
Though meaningful, these electronic access measures will not people who lack computers. Between 44 and 76 percent of people with disabilities lack computers, according to recent surveys. 3 We have discovered no SSA plan to give folder access to computer-less people. We have not even found mention of a simple solution like printing folder contents for people who lack computers and ask for access to their Social Security records.
The changeover from paper to electronic folders is going fast. The SSA Commissioner said:
“In the DDSs, we rolled out eDIB in January 2004 starting in Jackson, Mississippi, and implementation has begun in 14 states. We expect this process to be complete by June 2005.”
If Social Security is to extend equal treatment to all claimants, it cannot accommodate computer-owning claimants by furnishing them disks containing copies of their folders, while providing computer-less claimants no opportunity to have the same information.
Can computer-less people do something to assure that they can examine and copy their Social Security disability claim folders after the agency goes electronic? Yes. Fortunately, roll-out of the new disability process still is at an early stage. This is a good time to ask SSA and Members of Congress to remove the blindfold and give computer-less and computer-owning claimants equal access to disability information.■
1 Statement to House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee, September 30, 2004.
3 About 44 percent of Americans who describe themselves as having a disability lack computers, according to a report of The Pew Internet and American Life Project released April 16, 2003. Three quarters (76.1 percent) of people with work disabilities lack computers, according to a March 2000 study by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.
To follow developments in Social Security disability, visit: www.disabilityfacts.com
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