Skip to Content

AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Free Matter for the Blind

Pub. 347 - Mailing Free Matter for the Blind and Visually Handicapped Persons

Questions and Answers Publication 347
March 1998

This pamphlet has been produced by the Consumer Advocate, U. S. Postal Service. It is designed to answer the most often asked questions about free matter for the blind and other visually handicapped persons. The information contained in this publication is based on E040 of the Domestic Mail Manual and United States Code, title 39, sections 3403-3405.

Who may qualify to mail items free of postage?

Persons who are blind or who cannot use or read conventionally printed material due to a physical handicap. Other handicaps that can prevent normal reading include disabling paralysis, muscle or nerve deterioration affecting coordination and control, and confinement in iron lungs or other mechanical devices. Among the causes of such conditions are cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, infantile paralysis, myasthenia gravis, and diplegia.

What must a person do to be eligible to mail items free of postage?

The person must have a competent authority certify in writing that he or she is unable to read conventional reading material. A competent authority includes a licensed medical doctor, ophthalmologist, optometrist, registered nurse, or professional staff member of a hospital or other institution or agency. The statement is to be submitted to the post office where postage-free mailings will be made or received by the blind or visually handicapped person. The person is then considered eligible to use the free mailing privilege.

Which material may be mailed free of postage?

Under the conditions specified below, the following material is eligible:

  1. Books, magazines, musical scores, and other reading matter, or pages or parts thereof, in raised characters (Braille), large print, or recorded form.
  2. Paper, records, tapes, and other matter for the production of reading matter, musical scores, or sound reproductions for eligible persons.
  3. Equipment and parts for equipment used for writing by eligible persons or for educational purposes.
  4. Sound playback equipment specially designed or adapted for the use of visually handicapped persons.
  5. Equipment or parts for equipment specifically designed or adapted for use by visually handicapped persons, such as Braille watches, white canes, and similar equipment.

Are there restrictions on this material?

The material may not contain any advertising. Musical or other sound recordings not specifically designed for use by visually handicapped persons are not eligible for free mailing. The mail is subject to inspection by the Postal Service.

Who can mail eligible material postage- free and to whom can it be mailed?

Individuals, libraries, and other noncommercial organizations serving eligible persons may mail the above material free of postage to eligible persons and to organizations serving eligible persons. Eligible persons may return materials to the lenders free of postage. Eligible persons may exchange the above material among themselves free of postage. Libraries and other noncommercial organizations may exchange such material among themselves free of postage. Commercial producers of the above material may mail such material free of postage to an eligible person on the additional condition that whatever charge, fee, or rental required does not exceed the cost of the material.

Can letters be mailed free of postage?

Letters in raised characters (Braille), in 14- point or larger sight-saving type, or in the form of sound recordings may be mailed free of postage from an eligible person.

Handwritten or typewritten letters, however, are subject to the applicable rate of postage when mailed to or from an eligible person. Also subject to applicable postage are bills paid by mail by eligible persons and letters in any form when mailed to eligible persons from ineligible persons.

Why must letters be mailed unsealed?

To allow inspection by postal authorities to ensure that the materials qualify for mailing free of postage.

Are special services available for free mail for eligible persons?

A mailer may insure a postage-free parcel by paying only the required insurance fee. All matter sent by all special services, such as Express Mail, certified mail, or registered mail, requires payment of postage plus the full fees charged for the special postal services.

What must be marked on mail to show that it is qualified for mailing free of postage?

In the upper right corner of the address side of the envelope or parcel where the postage would normally be placed, the words "FREE MATTER FOR THE BLIND OR HANDICAPPED" must be placed. The words may be printed, rubber stamped, or handwritten.

Are special arrangements possible for delivery or pickup of free mail for eligible persons?

Eligibility for free mailing for the blind or other visually handicapped persons does not encompass such special arrangements. Post offices may be able to make special arrangements depending on the local circumstances. Customers should contact their local post office to request special arrangements. Such requests will be handled in accordance with the postal regulations concerning requests for special arrangements by handicapped persons.

Is international service available for blind and other visually handicapped persons?

Yes, the same general rules apply, except that the articles that may be mailed are limited to:

  1. Books, periodicals, and other matter (including unsealed letters) impressed in Braille or other special type for the use of the blind.
  2. Plates for embossing literature for the blind.
  3. Discs, tapes, or wires bearing voice recordings and special paper intended solely for the use of blind or visually handicapped persons, provided that they are sent by or addressed to an officially recognized institute for the blind.
  4. Sound recordings or tapes that are mailed by blind or other visually handicapped persons.

Where might an individual turn for help if problems occur while using the procedures for free mailing for the blind and handicapped?

Most problems can be resolved at your local post office. Customers may make inquiries or express concerns by telephone or letter, in person, or by using our convenient consumer service cards. These postage-paid cards are available at all post offices. If a problem cannot be resolved satisfactorily at your local post office, you may write to:

WASHINGTON DC 20260- 2200

Source document:

United States Postal Service
Domestic Mail Manual
703 Nonprofit Standard Mail and Other Unique Eligibility

5.0 Free Matter for the Blind and Other Physically Handicapped Persons

5.1 Basic Information

5.1.1 General
Subject to the standards below, matter may be entered free of postage if mailed by or for the use of blind or other persons who cannot read or use conventionally printed materials due to a physical handicap. The provisions of 5.0 apply to domestic mail only.

5.1.2 Mail Classification
Matter mailed free under this standard is not considered part of any particular class of mail and is not protected against postal inspection. This matter is treated as First-Class Mail for the exclusive purposes of determining appropriate standards for processing and delivery and for handling if undeliverable.

5.1.3 Eligibility
The following persons are considered to be blind or unable to read or use conventionally printed material due to a physical handicap for purposes of this section:

  1. Certified participants in the Library of Congress National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS).
  2. b. Blind persons whose visual acuity, as determined by competent authority, is 20/200 or less in the better eye with correcting lenses, or whose widest diameter of visual field subtends angular distance no greater than 20 degrees.
  3. Other physically handicapped persons certified by competent authority as meeting one or more of the following conditions:
    1. Having a visual disability, with correction and regardless of optical measurement, that prevents the reading of standard printed material.
    2. Being unable to read or unable to use standard printed material as a result of physical limitations.
    3. Having a reading disability resulting from organic dysfunction and of sufficient severity to prevent their reading printed material in a normal manner.
    4. Meeting the requirements of eligibility resulting from a degenerative, variable disease that renders them unable to read or use conventional printed material because of impaired eyesight or other physical factors. These persons are eligible during the time in which they are certified by a competent authority as unable to read or use conventional materials.
  4. Eligible participants must be residents of the United States, including the several states, territories, insular possessions, and the District of Columbia, or American citizens domiciled abroad.

5.1.4 Certifying Authority
For purposes of this standard:

  1. The postmaster may extend the free matter privilege to an individual recipient based on personal knowledge of the individual's eligibility.
  2. In cases of blindness, visual impairment, or physical limitations, "competent authority" is defined to include doctors of medicine; doctors of osteopathy; ophthalmologists; optometrists; registered nurses; therapists; and professional staff of hospitals, institutions, and public or private welfare agencies (e.g., social workers, caseworkers, counselors, rehabilitation teachers, and superintendents). In the absence of any of these, certification may be made by professional librarians or by any person whose competence under specific circumstances is acceptable to the Library of Congress (see 36 CFR 701.10(b)(2)(i)).
  3. In the case of reading disability from organic dysfunction, "competent authority" is defined as doctors of medicine and doctors of osteopathy.

5.1.5 Qualifying Individuals
The USPS may require individuals claiming entitlement to the free matter privilege to furnish evidence of eligibility consistent with the standards in 5.1.3 and 5.1.4, or verify by other means that the recipients are eligible to receive free matter.

5.2 Matter Sent To Blind or Other Physically Handicapped Persons

5.2.1 Acceptable Matter
Subject to 5.2.2, this matter may be mailed free:

  1. Reading matter in braille or 14-point or larger sightsaving type and musical scores.
  2. Sound reproductions.
  3. Paper, records, tapes, and other material for the production of reading matter, musical scores, or sound reproductions.
  4. Reproducers or parts of them for sound reproductions.
  5. Braille writers, typewriters, educational or other materials or devices, or parts thereof, used for writing by, or designed or adapted for use of, a blind person or a person who has a physical impairment as described in 5.1.3.

5.2.2 Conditions
The matter listed in 5.2.1 must meet these conditions:

  1. The matter must be for the use of a blind or other physically handicapped person.
  2. Either no charge, rental, subscription, or other fee is required for this matter; or, if required, may not exceed the cost of the item.
  3. The matter may be opened and inspected by the USPS.
  4. The matter contains no advertising. Advertising is defined as:
    1. All material of which a valuable consideration is paid, accepted, or promised, that calls attention to something to get people to buy it, sell it, seek it, or support it.
    2. Reading matter or other material of which an advertising rate is charged.
    3. Articles, items, and notices in the form of reading matter inserted by custom or understanding that textual matter is to be inserted for the advertiser or the advertiser's products in which a display advertisement appears.
    4. An organization's advertisement of its own services or issues, or any other business of the publisher, whether in display advertising or reading matter.

5.2.3 Letters From Sighted Individuals
Letters prepared in any form by sighted individuals, to be sent to a blind or other physically handicapped person, or empty shipping materials for mailing matter described in this section, may not be sent free and must bear the full applicable postage.

5.3 Matter Sent By Blind or Other Physically Handicapped Persons

5.3.1 Acceptable Letters
Only letters in braille or in 14-point or larger sightsaving type or in the form of sound recordings, and containing no advertising, may be mailed free, and only if unsealed and sent by a blind or other physically handicapped person as described in 5.1.3.

5.3.2 Other Letters
Letters that are handwritten, or printed or typed in a type size smaller than 14 points, may not be sent free. These letters must bear the full applicable postage.

5.4 Preparation

5.4.1 Basic Standards
All matter mailed under this standard:

  1. Must be marked "Free Matter for the Blind or Handicapped" in the upper right corner of the address side.
  2. Must meet the minimum and maximum dimensions in 601.1.0.
  3. Is subject to the mailability standards in 601.8.0 through 601.11.0 in Mailability.

5.4.2 Extra Services
Insurance is the only extra service that can be added to mail sent under this standard. The fee for insurance must be paid by the sender.

services icon Directory of Services

Join Our Mission

Help us expand our resources for people with vision loss.