The Social Security Disability
Experts Since 1984

Low Vision & Social Security Disability Benefits

Living with impaired vision can impact your life in numerous ways, including your ability to maintain gainful employment.

Individuals who are blind or have low vision may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. To qualify for disability with a visual disorder, claimants must meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) eligibility criteria.

How to Receive Social Security Disability Benefits for Low Vision & Blindness

Blind individuals can receive disability benefits under Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). These are two separate disability benefits programs.

If you aren’t legally blind, you can also qualify for Social Security Disability with vision impairment.

What Is Low Vision?

Low vision is defined as impaired vision that can’t be corrected by glasses, medication, or surgery. Causes can include a number of medical conditions, such as macular degeneration, diabetes, or cataracts. In many cases, vision impairments worsen gradually over time. Some telltale signs may include trouble reading traffic signs or perceiving surroundings as dark or dim when it’s bright out.

If you have low vision, you may be eligible for SSD if you’re unable to earn Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) due to your condition. This is also true if you’re unable to work because you’re suffering from a combination of conditions.

How the SSA Evaluates Blindness & Visual Disorders

Blindness and visual disorders are listed as qualifying conditions in the SSA’s Blue Book under section 2.00 Special Senses and Speech. Impairments in the Blue Book are medical conditions considered eligible for SSD.

A claimant may only meet the criteria of statutory blindness if their impairment satisfies the requirements outlined in listings 2.02 or 2.03A in the Blue Book.

The SSA’s medical criteria for a statutory blindness claim is as follows:

  • You have central visual acuity of 20/200 in the better eye with use of a correcting lens (that can’t be further corrected); OR
  • Your better eye has a visual field limitation such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no more than 20 degrees.

As with all qualifying disabilities, your condition must have lasted or be expected to last at least 12 months. However, this duration requirement does not apply to SSI claimants filing a blindness claim.

Claimants who don’t meet the SSA’s definition of blindness but have a disabling visual impairment should file under a different listing. Under section 2.00, visual disorders that can qualify for benefits refer to issues affecting the eye, optic nerve, optic tracts, or brain that can result in a loss of visual acuity or visual fields.

Provided that your impairment prevents you from working and meets or equals a Blue Book listing in severity, you will receive benefits. However, if your visual impairment primarily affects only one eye, you will not qualify for disability.

What If Your Disorder Doesn’t Meet or Equal a Blue Book Listing?

If your disability doesn’t meet any listing, you can apply for a medical-vocational allowance. You will only be approved for an allowance if your impairment significantly limits your ability to perform past relevant work and any new type of work.

Medical Evidence

To qualify for SSD, you will need to supply substantial supporting evidence to the SSA when filing a claim. Medical evidence for visual disorders includes results from eye examinations and various tests. This evidence must prove that you meet the medical criteria of the disability listing under which you are applying.

SSDI/SSI Requirements

To be approved for SSDI or SSI, you must meet specific eligibility requirements, regardless of the nature of your disability.

SSDI is a program that provides financial assistance to disabled workers. Claimants that apply for SSDI must have paid into the Social Security System by working and paying payroll taxes. SSDI benefits are only available to individuals who have earned substantial work credits throughout their life.

To be eligible for SSI with a vision impairment, claimants must have extremely limited income and resources. SSI is a needs-based program that provides financial assistance to disabled, blind, and aged individuals. SSI claimants do not need to have a work history to qualify for benefits and must be ineligible for SSDI.

What Is a “Disability Freeze?”

If you are working and may become eligible for SSDI, you should be aware of a special rule known as a “disability freeze.” This regulation can be utilized if you’re visually impaired but are not yet receiving disability benefits because you’re still employed.

If your earnings are reduced as a result of your condition’s impact on your work capabilities, the SSA can exclude those years when calculating Social Security retirement or disability benefits. By not factoring those years in, your future benefit amount will be higher.

Can You Work While Receiving Benefits?

When you receive SSDI, you can take advantage of work incentives that enable you to work and receive benefits at the same time.

Work incentives are available to all SSDI beneficiaries. However, those who are blind receive more flexibility regarding how much they may earn before they stop receiving benefits. This means that if you’re receiving SSDI and are blind, you have a higher earnings limit than workers who aren’t blind. Earnings limits usually change every year.

Additionally, at age 55, if your earnings exceed a predetermined limit, benefits are suspended but not terminated. The SSA will also pay you benefits for any month your earnings fell below the limit.

There are also work incentives for SSI beneficiaries, some of which are specific to blind individuals.

Contact Our Social Security Disability Lawyers

If you’re struggling to work due to vision loss or blindness, you may qualify for disability benefits. If you’re uncertain about navigating the Social Security Disability vision requirements, we can help.

Contact us at Peña & Bromberg when you need assistance filing a Social Security Disability claim. We understand the complexities involved in securing SSDI and SSI benefits for those with visual disabilities. Our legal team is committed to maximizing your chances of a favorable outcome. Reach out to schedule a free consultation.

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