Modifications / Accommodations for Interview and Other Interaction with USCIS


I wanted to take some time to discuss some accommodations and/or modifications that naturalization applicants may request.  Although it is usually more common to deal with the N-648 Disability Waiver, this information may be useful to some applicants to make their experiences with USCIS more comfortable and less stressful.

 

Background

  • Naturalization applicants with disabilities are entitled to request modifications and/or accommodations for their interview and other interactions with USCIS.
  • Under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, qualified individuals are protected from discrimination based on their disability.  This law applies to any organizations that receive financial assistance from the Federal government, and prevents these organizations from denying individuals an equal opportunity to receive benefits or services.
    • Definition: Individuals with disabilities
      • Persons with a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities.  The law also covers people who have a history of such impairment.
    • Examples: Major Life Activity
      • Caring for one’s self, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, performing manual tasks, learning
    • Examples: Impairments
      • AIDS, alcoholism, blindness/visual impairment, cancer, deafness/hearing impairment, diabetes, drug addiction, heart disease, mental illness
    • All USCIS facilities are compliant with the Accessibility Guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), another law that prohibits discrimination based on disabilities, both mental and physical.
      • All public buildings, transportation, and housing are required to meet the standards of the ADA to ensure that people with disabilities can access these places and services.
      • Examples: Disabilities
        • Deafness, blindness, intellectual disability, partially or completely missing limbs, mobility impairments requiring the use of a wheelchair, autism, cancer, cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, HIV, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, PTSD, OCD, and schizophrenia.
          • The following are NOT considered disabilities under the ADA: kleptomania, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, etc.
        • Modifications vs. accommodations
          • Definition: Modification
            • Changing the physical surroundings
          • Definition: Accommodation
            • Changing rules, policies or procedures

 

Types of Accommodations and Modifications

  • Extending Examination Time and Breaks
    • Some applicants with disabilities may need more time than is regularly scheduled.  USCIS may provide additional time and provide breaks.
  • Blindness/visual impairment
    • USCIS may provide materials in braille or read questions out loud to the applicant.
    • USCIS may provide reading tests in large print.
  • Deafness/hearing impairment
    • USCIS gives primary consideration to the requests of the person with a disability.
    • USCIS may provide a sign language interpreter to applicants that are hard of hearing or deaf.
      • If the applicant does not bring his/her own English sign language interpreter, the field office must provide one.
      • USCIS must provide an interpreter who uses the applicant’s particular language, if that person is reasonably available.
        • If a person uses Pidgeon English, USCIS must provide an interpreter who uses Pigeon English if reasonably available.  USCIS cannot provide an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter and require the interpreter to translate between Pidgeon English and ASL.
      • USCIS may permit the applicant to read lips.
      • USCIS may permit the applicant to answer the officer’s questions in writing.
    • Immobile or homebound
      • USCIS may visit the applicant at his/her home or the hospital, hospice, senior citizens center or nursing home.
      • The applicant’s illness or disability must make it medically unsuitable for him/her to come to the USCIS office in person.
    • Nonverbal Communication
      • USCIS may allow an applicant to point to answers on the application or write out answers to the civics test.
      • An applicant may also use blinking, head shaking or nodding, tapping or another form of nonverbal communication, which should be agreed upon with the USCIS officer before beginning the interview.
    • Allowing Relatives and Others to Attend the Examination & Assist with Forms
      • The presence of a person may help the applicant remain calm and responsive.
        • If the presence of the person is disruptive at any time, the officer may remove the person and reschedule the examination.
      • If the applicant is being unresponsive, the person may also repeat the officer’s questions to the applicant.
    • Expediting SSI Applicants
      • USCIS will expedite the applications of applicants who are currently receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if:
        • The applicant is within one year or less of having their benefits terminated by the Social Security Administration
          and
        • The applicant’s naturalization application has been pending for four months or more.
          • This time is measured from the date of receipt by USCIS.  This is the date indicated on the first letter the applicant receives from USCIS with the receipt number after submitting their application.
        • To expedite: Applicants much inform USCIS that the benefits will be terminated within the next year either by making an INFOPASS appointment, or by mailing the following to USCIS
          • A letter explaining that SSI benefits will be terminated within one year and that the application has been pending for at least four months
            and
          • A copy of the applicant’s most recent Social Security Administration letter indicating termination of the benefits
            • Practice Tip: Include the applicant’s A-number on the top of the SSA letter.
          • If the applicant has not yet filed the N-400, write “SSI” at the top of the application.

 

Requesting Accommodations

  • N-400 Instructions: “USCIS considers requests for reasonable accommodations on a case-by-case basis and will use its best efforts to reasonably accommodate all applicants with disabilities or impairments.  Qualified individuals will not be excluded from participating in, or be denied the benefits of, USCIS’ programs solely on the basis of their disability(ies) or impairment(s).  Requesting and/or receiving an accommodation will not affect your eligibility for a USCIS benefit.”
  • Part 2, Question 10 on the N-400 asks whether the applicant is requesting any accommodation due to a disability or impairment.
    • Mark “Yes” if the applicant has an impairment and/or disability, and check the box that applies to the applicant.  If the applicant’s disability is not listed, check “Other” and explain in the box provided.  You can use additional paper if necessary to explain the impairment and/or disability.
      • Practice Tip: Attached is a sample letter requesting accommodations from CLINIC that may be helpful to use and submit both with the N-400 and take to the interview.
    • Call the National Customer Service Center (NCSC) after the applicant receives the appointment notice, even if you marked “yes” on the N-400.
      • Contact Number
        • 1-800-375-5283
        • TDD: 1-800-767-1833
      • Do NOT call for the exemption to English and/or civics requirement!
      • Call every time the applicant will be visiting the USCIS office (e.g. for biometrics and the interview).

If USCIS denies the accommodation and the applicant or advocate believes that it was an error, call the NCSC phone number and reference the denial notice.