Independent Living and Getting Your Mail
How to Apply For Hardship Mail Delivery

Independent living with a disability in today's world is reality for many more people than just a generation ago. A continuously increasing array of solutions makes it possible for independent living for a wider range of types of disabilities. Common to all, regardless of disability, is the need to be able to collect one's postal mail. When mail is not delivered to one's door or the mailbox isn't inaccessible, what can be done? The local post office may be able to help if you qualify and you know what to do.

My neighborhood, like many in Florida and around the country, has cluster mailboxes, a central location where many mailboxes are located. The area surrounding these cluster mailboxes may not be accessible to those with disabilities. The post office is not required to make area surrounding existing mailboxes accessible but, one may qualify to have delivered to a more accessible location such as the end of the driveway or even their front door. The exception to the normal delivery location is called "hardship mail delivery."

Qualifying for "hardship mail delivery" can be intimidating. It is up to the discretion of the local postmaster that serves your neighborhood. The rules tend to favor the post office. In short, it states that if there is an able bodied adult living in the home such as a spouse, one does not generally qualify. It also states that if the mailbox is accessible in any way by the person with a disability including a vehicle, one may not qualify. In defense of the post office, if the rules weren't this way, rampant abuse would be apparent by every piece of *$&^# who thinks the world owes them something and is too lazy to put down the bag of "feed" to waddle over to the mailbox.

For those with a real disability, knowing how to ask and what to say is key.

Rule #1 — Be polite, courteous and respectful.

Hardship delivery is up to the discretion of the local postmaster. Any exceptions to the rules must be clearly and comprehensively justified and, in writing. A request needs to state clearly, why the current mail delivery location cannot be used in all circumstances. A request must explain why another adult occupant cannot retrieve the mail on a daily basis. A request must include a doctor's written statement regarding your physical disability in collecting your mail.

Rule #2 — Be blatantly honest. Do NOT try to be clever.

The current mail delivery location needs explanation why it cannot be used. Below, some sample language is provided which you can edit for your disability and situation. When appropriate, the doctor's statement should specify the point(s) below.

  • Mail is delivered to a community mailbox. [state the current delivery location]
  • I'm in a wheelchair or Blind or whatever disability
  • The mailbox is not accessible from a car on the street; the boxes face away from the street. I'm a quadriplegic and do not have reach outside the car [if you drive, why not accessible by car]
  • The mailbox is not accessible via a sidewalk [if it accessible by a sidewalk, you may be denied]
  • The area surrounding the mailbox and is not ADA compliant. [ace in the hole if you can claim this]
  • Approach to the mailbox would require either crossing private property or traveling on the street in my wheelchair assuming that the curbs were ADA compliant to travel over which they are not.
  • Why an adult other than you living with you cannot collect the mail. In short, if there is an able bodied person living with you, it can be a basis of denial. However, each case is different and should be explained in your request.
  • When appropriate, address the physical risk in attempting to collect your mail. For example, you might be ambulatory but marginally so and prone to falls and unable to get up without assistance.

It is important to address every possible method for reaching the mailbox and why it isn't useable. Make sure your request addresses them all.

  • I live alone. All of us are disabled. My spouse is a travelling salesperson and is frequently on the road unable to collect the mail on a consistent or regular basis. [Why can't another adult occupant collect the mail]
  • My house is on a residential street and less than 40 feet from the curb. [The post office may opt for curbside delivery or at the front door, they'll let you know]
  1. Create a letter that has the above points to it.
  2. Make a copy and give to your doctor so he may use it as a reference in creating his letter.
  3. Ask your doctor to create a letter for your request. The doctor's letter should state the extent of your disability with regards to collecting your mail. For example, you are legally blind, confined to a wheelchair, etc. It need not be extensively detailed but more to verify your disability.
  4. Put your letter and the doctor's letter in an envelope and mail it to the post office serving you.
United States Postal Service
Your Town, State 00000

Get a Mailbox — Once approved, you'll need a mailbox or someplace to have your mail delivered. There aren't ADA compliant mailboxes — too simple — a box with a lid or door (see note). It will be the placement of it that will determine accessibility… to you. There are postal regulations that dictate how low or high a box can be placed. Also, if you plan to use a door-mounted slot, you may not be able to use it if you have a storm or screen door due to postal regulations. It is best to talk with your postmaster or your letter carrier about where you want to place your mailbox before installation to avoid the headache of having to move it later. Choices are endless and run whatever budget you can imagine. Your local home improvement store is a good place to start. To be overwhelmed with choices, search online for what best suits your needs in both accessibility and style.

With a little luck, you'll now be a bit more independent than you were before.

Note: This statement applies to single box residential units. Cluster mailbox design, both residential and commercial, is dictated by detailed postal regulations. Most manufacturers can provide additional information. Some manufacturers have this and related information online. ADA compliance is an issue only to the extent of access to the boxes. For example, a barrier-free curb, sidewalk access, etc. The physical nature of actual mailbox design and layout essentially renders the cluster mailbox as accessible. However, specific box assignment to those with a disability may be required depending upon disability (e.g., in a wheelchair) and box location such as a wall of boxes as found at a post office. It is worth noting that if following ADA requirements in design that only a portion of the boxes need be accessible, not all of them.