The last week in June was Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness Week. To mark this observance, which was enacted in 1984, the Social Security Disability advocates at Binder & Binder® bring you information about SSD and blindness.
Vision loss affects many millions of people in the U.S. and is one oif the conditions for which SSD benefits are available. According to the American Foundation for the Blind in 2012, nearly 21 million adults 18 and over are totally blind or have difficulty seeing even with corrective lenses. Slightly less than one-third of these people are at or below the poverty line. Of the 21 million people who reported vision loss, about 129,000 received SSD benefits in 2012, according to the Annual Statistical Report on the Social Security Disability Insurance Program.
Vision loss has a significant impact on someone's ability to work, and the SSD recognizes this. People who receive SSD benefits for vision loss have a higher threshold for earned income than other disabled workers. For example, blind SSD recipients can earn up to $1,820 per month and still receive SSD benefits, while other workers have a monthly limit of $1,090 per month. People who earn more than the threshold amount receive reduced benefits.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers a person to be legally blind if vision cannot be corrected to better than 20/200 or if the visual field is 20 degrees or less even when corrected. People with vision problems that do not meet this threshold may still be eligible for SSD benefits if vision problems or a combination of health problems prevent an individual from working.
The SSA does not use a specific diagnosis of an illness or eye condition to determine eligibility for disability benefits. Rather, it evaluates an individual's eligibility for SSD benefits using the measurements above. In practical terms, this means that a diagnosis of macular degeneration, retinopathy or cataracts is not enough. You must have a measurable loss of visual ability.
In addition, each eye is evaluated separately. If one eye meets the definition above, but the other is better, even if only slightly, an individual would probably not be eligible for SSD disability benefits. Put another way, it means that the better eye must meet the threshold of 20/200 or 20 degrees of visual field.
If an applicant does not meet the threshold for blindness, the SSA is required to evaluate the functional limitations that can keep people from working even if they do not meet the eligibility criteria. They may be able to receive a medical-vocational allowance that could improve eligibility for SSD benefits.
Of course, as with anything related to Social Security Disability benefits, the challenge for people with low vision or blindness is to figure out the details. The explanation above is an introduction. Actually receiving benefits requires in-depth knowledge of the eligibility details. That is why it is so important to have an advocate working with you as you seek SSD benefits for blindness or low vision.