On March 2, 1899, “an act regulating the postage on letters written by the blind” was passed by Congress. This piece of legislation was the first such postal law benefiting blind persons in the United States. It allowed blind persons to mail unsealed letters in raised characters at third-class rates rather than first-class rates (That All May Read, 1983, p. 425). Five years later, Congress established the first Free Matter for the Blind mailing program by providing a funding subsidy to the post office for individual correspondence and organizations mailing braille materials, including libraries for the blind. Additions and changes have been made to the law (P.L. 91-375) over the years. Specific regulations are contained in the Domestic Mail Manual, Section 703.5, available on the United States Postal Service (USPS) website.
Each year Congress appropriates funds to the USPS to cover the mailing cost of “Free Matter for the Blind and Other Physically Handicapped Persons.” Even though the mailing designation is Free Matter, the USPS is reimbursed for the cost of this service. Reading materials produced by the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS), Library of Congress, are sent to and returned by eligible readers using Free Matter mailing. These special-format audio, braille, and large-print (14 point or larger) materials and bold-note music are mailed from a network library to an eligible reader as “Free Matter for the Blind and Other Physically Handicapped Persons” and may be returned to the library in the same manner at no cost to the individual or the library. Playback equipment needed to read the recorded materials also may be mailed as Free Matter between the reader and the library, and between the library and machine-repair volunteers. Blind and physically handicapped individuals and other organizations serving blind and physically handicapped clients also use the Free Matter mailing privilege.
NLS coordinates a free public library program for any resident of the United States who is unable to read conventional print because of blindness, visual impairment, or physical handicap. NLS arranges for the transcription of books into braille and for audio recordings of print books and magazines. These materials and the special playback equipment needed to use them are provided through cooperating libraries that loan the books and playback equipment to eligible readers within their service area.
For specific questions regarding postal regulations and the NLS service, please contact the NLS liaison with the United States Postal Service, Vickie Collins, Head, Network Services Section, (202) 707-9301, [email protected].