Future Reflections January 1982, Vol. 1 No. 2

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by Duane Gerstenberger

(Editors Note: Mr. Gerstenberger is the Director of Job Opportunities for the Blind (J.O.B.); a joint project of the National Federation of
the Blind and the U.S. Department of Labor. Prior to his current position, Mr. Gerstenberger served for a number of years as the Assistant Director in charge of Library and Social Services at the Iowa Commission for the Blind.)

Quoted below is that section of the postal regulations that relates to Free Matter. This is Section 135 from the U.S. Postal Service Domestic Mail Manual. Following the regulations are several comments and examples which clarify specific paragraphs of the regulations. (Unfortunately, many postal employees are not familiar with the content and interpretation of the Free Matter regulations.) Legislation enabling blind persons to mail materials without postage was originally passed by the U.S. Congress in 1904. While there have been some changes in the regulations over the years (most notably the enlargement of the list of those items mailable free to include not only embossed reading materials but recorded materials and other items and devices), the basic intent of the law is the same today as it was in 1904: since blind persons must necessarily rely heavily on the postal system to get reading materials, reading materials for blind persons may travel through the postal system without postage.

135 For the Blind and Other Handicapped Persons

135.1 Conditions. The Following conditions are applicable to articles mailable free of postage under this section:

a. Except as provided in 135.21 the matter is for the use of blind or other persons who cannot use or read conventionally printed material because of a physical impairment who are certified by competent authority as unable to read normal reading materials.

b. No charge, or rental, subscription, or other fee, is required for such matter or a charge, or rental, subscription, or other fee is required for such matter not in excess of the cost thereof.
c. The matter may be opened for postal inspection.
d. The matter contains no advertising.

135.2 Items Mailable Free

.21 Unsealed letters sent by a blind person or a person having a physical impairment as described in section 135.1a in raised characters or in 14 point or larger sightsaving type or in the form of sound recordings.

.22 Reading matter and musical scores.

.23 Sound reproductions.

.24 Paper, records, tapes, and other material for the production of reading matter, musical scores, or sound reproductions.

.25 Reproducers or parts thereof for sound reproductions.

.26 Braille writers or typewriters, or parts thereof, used for writing by or specifically designed or adapted for use of a blind person or a person having a physical impairment as described in 135.1a.

.27 Educational or other materials or devices, or parts thereof, specifically designed or adapted for use of a blind person or a person having a physical impairment as described in 135.1a.

135.3 Markings. All matter mailed under the provisions of part 135 must show the words FREE MATTER FOR THE BLIND OR HANDICAPPED in the upper right corner of the address side.

135.4 Weight and Size Limits. The weight and size limitations in 751 are applicable to mailings made under this part.

Paragraph 135.31 specifies that a blind person may send unsealed letters "in raised characters (Braille) or in 14 points or larger sight saving type." Fourteen point type is slightly over 3/16 inches. While the regulations specify unsealed letters, the practice within the postal system is not to enforce that part of the regulations. It is this section of the regulations that makes it quite clear that a blind person may not send a standard type-size letter FREE MATTER.

Paragraph 135.24 notes an important and especially beneficial portion of the FREE MATTER regulations. It is this paragraph which clearly says that materials being sent to a volunteer transcriber--either Brailist or tapist--may be sent FREE MATTER. This means a print book, Braille paper, and recording tapes or cassettes may go through the mail with no postage. Likewise, paragraph 135.25 notes that recorders ("reproducers") are mailable FREE MATTER.

While paragraph 135.26 is quite clear in stating that Braille writers and Braille typewriters may be sent FREE MATTER, one related point about such devices is worth noting. Any item which is mailed FREE MATTER generally may be insured, certified or in some other way given special treatment or consideration by the postal service if the mailer purchases such services. As an example, Braille writers may be sent FREE MATTER and insured. There is no charge for the actual mailing of the Braille writer but the U.S. Postal Service will charge for the insurance fee. (The current charges to insure a new Braille writer are $3.45.) A blind person who wishes to send a Braille letter certified and return receipt requested may do so. Again, there would be no charge for the mailing of the letter but the Postal Service would charge for the certification and return receipt.

Paragraph 135.27 allows for rather broad interpretation as to what may be sent FREE MATTER. It is this part of the regulation that allows a Scrabble game with Braille markings to be sent without postage. It is this section which allows a whole variety of items generally referred to as aids and appliances to be sent FREE MATTER: canes, Braille paper, cassette tapes, slates, modified kitchen utensils, etc. The key phrase within this paragraph is "specifically designed or adapted," A reasonable and fair interpretation of that phrase within the context of the complete FREE MATTER FOR THE BLIND regulations really means that nearly all aids and appliances may be mailed FREE MATTER.

While paragraph 135.3 is quite succint, a few blind persons have recently indicated that they have had some problems in the interpretation of this paragraph. Specifically, some postal clerks have insisted that the FREE MATTER notation must cite and/or quote section 135 of the Domestic Mail Manual. Obviously, paragraph 135.3 says no such thing. (FREE MATTER rubber stamps are currently available from the National Federation of the Blind for $1.70. If you order one, most likely it will be sent to you FREE MATTER FOR THE BLIND.)

Perhaps the most limiting section of the FREE MATTER regulations is paragraph 135.4. This paragraph indicates that all material--Braille books, aids and appliances, letters, etc.--must conform to weight and size limitations of all other materials sent through the postal system. (In other words, you may not put Braille markings on your kitchen range and send it through the mail when you move from Kalamazoo to Poughkeepsie.) Letters or other items which weigh between 1 and 15 ounces to be mailed FREE MATTER must conform to postal regulations for similar items mailed with postage paid. Anything which weighs 1 pound or more will be handled with all other parcels within the postal system. The basic weight and size limitations for all parcels (those with postage paid and those that are FREE MATTER) are these: parcels mailed between post offices in the continental United States may not exceed 40 pounds in weight or 84 inches in girth and length combined. Some post offices (generally the smallest offices) will accept and deliver packages up to a maximum of 70 pounds and measuring up to 100 inches in girth and length combined. You will need to check with the post office where you mail any package which exceeds 40 pounds and 84 inches as to whether that post office and the post office where the package will be received can accomodate such packages. (The girth of a package is its circumference measured at its broadest or fattest point.) Items weighing 1 pound or more going to Alaska or Hawaii come under some other limitations. Consult the postmaster or the Postal Service customer service office for these specific limitations.

While some postmen will pick up at and deliver to the door FREE MATTER packages, it is important to remember that they are not required to do so. Again, remember that FREE MATTER packages 1 pound or heavier (including Braille, cassette and talking books) are regarded by the Postal Service as parcels--which need not be delivered to a specific address unless the item will fit in the mail box or postal slot. In other words, any item weighing 1 pound or more need only be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service from one post office to another. It is the responsibility of the mailer to deliver it to one post office and the receiver to pick it up at another. (The Postal Service must notify the receiver at his or her address that there is a package being held at the post office or local station.)

While the FREE MATTER postal regulations are short and relatively specific, they are subject to interpretation. Knowledge of the regulations should prove helpful in seeing that postal employees make fair and reasonable interpretations of these regulations.


If a child lives with criticism,
He learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility,
He learns to fight.
If a child lives with ridicule,
He learns to be shy.
If a child lives with shame,
He learns to feel guilty.
If a child lives with tolerance,
He learns to be patient.
If a child lives with encouragement,
He learns confidence.
If a child lives with praise,
He learns to appreciate.
If a child lives with fairness,
He learns justice
If a child lives with security,
He learns to have faith.

If a child lives with approval,
He learns to like himself.
If a child lives with acceptance and friendship,
He learns to find love in the world.

(Editors Note: "Children Learn What They Live" is taken from the Blind Missourian,
a publication of the NFB of Missouri, Inc.)


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