The naturalization examination for US Citizenship can be an extraordinary intimidating process. Born US citizens take it for granted, but the idea of driving to an immigration office and appearing for an examination before a government officer is the cause of many night sweats and palpitations, especially for those who are elderly and those not fluent in English. The process can be even more daunting for those who suffer from disabilities, whether they are hard of hearing, partially blind, or unable to walk. Some of these people are discouraged to apply because they assume that they will not be able to perform competently. Fortunately, the government does recognize these types of situations and does provide accommodations for people with valid physical handicaps.
Those with Disabilities May Request a Homebound Interview
While the vast majority of naturalization applicants must appear at their local USCIS District office for their examinations, there is small segment of the population who may request a special accommodation to have the interview conducted at their home or a location more convenient. These are loosely called “homebound” interviews. If a case is approved and classified as such, a designated USCIS officer will appear offsite, either at the person’s residence or, if the person is residing at a senior or nursing home, the facility. The actual interview is conducted just like a normal interview being held at the District Office: only the setting is different; otherwise, applicants will be expected to demonstrate basic English language proficiency, knowledge of American history, and Good Moral Character for the last five years (three for some). In order to qualify for this type of accommodation, the applicant must demonstrate that he or she suffers from an illness or disability that makes it medically impractical for him or her to appear at the local office. Typical examples would be individuals who are bedridden or similarly confined.
Accommodations for Those Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
It is a common misunderstanding that individuals who are hearing impaired are excused from taking the N-400 examination due to their medical problem. However, unless the applicant qualifies for the medical disability exemption utilizing the N-648, he or she will normally be expected to take the English and civics tests (those who qualify for the English waiver may take the test in their native language but must still take the test). But USCIS may still extend certain accommodations to facilitate the process for those with proven, medically valid impairments. In the case of deaf or hard of hearing applicants, USCIS instructs officers to use any communication aids, permit the applicant to read lips, and allow the applicant to answer the oral questions in writing, as necessary. See USCIS Policy Manual, Types of Accommodations. Upon request, USCIS must also provide an English sign language interpreter if that is how the applicant normally communicates. In order to request these accommodations, requests should be made as soon as practicable. If not, it is important to make an adjudicating officer aware of the disability so that he or she can be sensitive to it while conducting the examination and/or test.
Accommodations for Partially Blind Applicants
Unless a vision impaired applicant is able to demonstrate that he or she qualifies for a medical disability exemption, he or she will be expected to take the test like the majority of applicants. Part of the N-400 test includes an English reading and writing component (unless the applicant qualifies for an English waiver exemption). Obviously, reading may be problematic for those whose vision is compromised, especially for senior citizens whose vision progressively deteriorate with age. USCIS policy does provide that officers may administer the reading test in a way that accommodates the disability by providing the test in large print. Officers may do this by photocopying the current version of the reading sentence into larger print or increasing the font size electronically so that the applicant is better able to read the fine print.
These are just some of the accommodations that USCIS may extend to individuals suffering from disabilities and impairments. For more information on what an applicant may or may not request, please contact our office. Our office focuses a large part of our practice on citizenship matters and regularly attends interviews with our clients. The presence of an attorney can be incredibly beneficial for an applicant. Not only is the attorney there to ensure that the interview is conducted fairly, but the presence of an attorney may also have a calming effect on the applicant, dissipating some of the tension that an applicant may feel going it alone and allowing him/her to perform better with a relaxed state of mind.
The above is general information only and not to be relied upon as legal advice. It does not create an attorney client relationship nor should it be relied upon as advice in lieu of consultation with an attorney.