While estimates on the number of Americans who are blind vary depending on the definition of blindness used in each study, a 2015 National Health Interview Survey found that 23.7 million adults aged 18 and older reported experiencing blindness or vision loss. However, not all individuals who experience blindness or severe vision loss will qualify for social security disability (SSD) benefits.
Blindness and SSD benefits
The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not require that individuals be totally blind – which is defined as no light perception – to qualify for SSD benefits. Instead, an applicant must be statutorily (partially) blind, which is defined as having either:
- Corrected central visual acuity of less than or equal to 20/200 in the better eye, or;
- Visual field limitation (peripheral vision) of less than or equal to 20 degrees.
It is still possible to obtain SSD benefits if you do not meet the statutory definition of blindness, if your vision loss meets the criteria for any of the other vision impairments under Section 2 of the SSA’s disability blue book, or through a medical vocational allowance (your vision loss does not meet a listing, but prevents you from adjusting to new work).
Documenting blindness for SSD benefits
The SSA requires proof that you meet the criteria for statutory blindness – a note from your ophthalmologist stating that you are blind is insufficient to meet the listing. You must include with your application any eye examinations, including tests conducted and measurements taken, that show your vision meets or exceeds one of the listing criteria.
To prove that your central visual acuity is less than or equal to 20/200 in the best eye, you must provide testing carried out using the Snellen methodology, or another comparable test. For peripheral vision, the exam must have utilized an automatic static threshold perimetry test.
You are not required to provide any information regarding the cause of the blindness, nor is there a durational requirement, i.e., you will not need to prove that the vision loss has lasted, or is expected to last, at least 12 months.
Special considerations for blind individuals
There are additional benefits for individuals who qualify for SSD benefits due to blindness.
Receipt of SSD benefits does not prevent you from working – it only prevents you from earning above a set amount each month. For individuals who are blind, the monthly limit is higher than for non-blind individuals – $1,950 versus $1,170 in 2017. That means if you are blind and approved for SSD benefits, you can earn up to $1,950 per month and still receive SSD benefits.
The amount of SSD benefits an individual receives is based on his average lifetime earnings. While an individual may be able to work despite the blindness, they may also experience periods of lower earnings because of that blindness. For these individuals, the SSA will impose a disability freeze on their earnings – these lower paying years will be omitted when calculating the monthly SSD benefit. You must contact the SSA and request a disability freeze.
Blind individuals over the age of 55 may continue to work and receive SSD benefits without having to reapply any time they become ineligible due to exceeding the allowable monthly earnings. During any period that the individual earns more than the allowable amount, the SSA will suspend, as opposed to terminate, the recipients SSD benefits.
Our office was successful in obtaining SSD benefits for a college professor who had a complete loss of vision in one eye, in addition to other medical conditions. Our client suffers from diabetes, which resulted in diabetic retinopathy, blurry vision and floaters. He also has congenital glaucoma, which eventually caused him to lose all light perception in his left eye. Our office appealed his denial of benefits to an administrative law judge, who found that his impairments made it impracticable for him to perform not only his past work, but any other work as well.
Resources for the blind
The American Foundation for the Blind is a comprehensive site that offers information on accessible technology, resources for job seekers with vision loss, and much more, as well as message boards for individuals to connect on a variety of issues related to living with blindness or vision loss.
The Illinois Council of the Blind includes links to a number of organizations and groups throughout Illinois that provide services and support to individuals living with blindness.
If you are applying for SSD benefits or have been denied SSD benefits, consider the Law Office of Neil H. Good for your legal representation. Contact us at #866-352-5238 or complete our online evaluation form.