Can I Qualify for Disability Benefits with Vision Loss in Pennsylvania?

Humans receive much of their information about the world through their eyes.  When the eyes are injured or compromised by illness, and the result is a damaged sense of sight, it can be a challenge to maintain steady employment.  If you are unable to work as a result of partial or complete vision loss, you may be eligible for monthly disability benefits in the form of SSI (Supplemental Security Income) or SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance). So how does the Social Security Administration evaluate vision claims, and how do you qualify?

Normally, the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses its “Blue Book” guidelines, formally known as the Listing of Impairments, to evaluate disability claims.  However, blindness comes with unique rules and conditions.

SSA Regulations for Blind Disability Claimants

To quote the SSA, “There are special rules for people who are blind or have low vision.” But before we can address these “special rules,” it’s important to understand how the SSA defines blindness:

“We consider you to be legally blind under Social Security rules if your vision cannot be corrected to better than 20/200 in your better eye, or if your visual field is 20 degrees or less, even with a corrective lens. Many people who meet the legal definition of blindness still have some sight, and may be able to read large print and get around without a cane or a guide dog.”

If this describes you, what sort of special rules might then apply?

  • SGA evaluation under SSI.  SGA stands for Substantial Gainful Activity (i.e. work which earns income), and SSI stands for Supplemental Security Income (i.e. need-based monthly benefits). Normally, your SGA evaluation factors into a denial or approval, but SGA does not factor in if you meet the definition of blindness.
  • No duration requirement under SSI.  Normally, the SSA imposes a time duration requirement on disability applicants: a minimum of 12 months (either already elapsed, or expected to pass). There is no duration requirement for blind SSI applicants.
  • Higher income limits.  If you are a blind SSDI applicant, the standard income threshold of $1,070 is raised to $1,800 per month.

In terms of the physical application itself, the SSA makes special accessibility accommodations, including Braille and audio CDs.

Qualifying for Disability with Partial Vision Loss

Of course, not all vision disorders or eye injuries are tantamount to being legally blind.  Section 2.00 of the Listing of Impairments, Special Senses and Speech, covers a variety of ocular conditions, including:

  • Loss of Visual Acuity (Section 2.02)
  • Contraction in the Visual Fields of the Better Eye (2.03)
  • Loss of Visual Efficiency (2.04)
  • Disturbance of Labyrinthine-Vestibular Function (2.05)

Notice the difference between loss of visual acuity, and loss of visual efficiency.

There is loss of acuity when the “remaining vision in the better eye after best correction is 20/200 or less.”

By comparison, loss of efficiency is defined as either:

  • “A visual efficiency percentage of 20 or less after best correction.”
  • “A visual impairment value of 1.00 or greater after best correction.”

The recurring phrase “after best correction” is also important to note.  If naturally poor vision can be brought to normal levels with glasses or contact lenses, you will not be considered disabled by the SSA.

In terms of evaluating a claimant’s vision, SSA medical examiners may conduct tests and seek documentation including:

  • 20-Foot Vision Measurements
  • Cycloplegic Refraction (i.e. using eye drops to test the pupil)
  • Eye Exams
  • Eye Exam Reports
  • Snellen Methodology (i.e. the standard chart used by eye doctors)
  • VER (Visual Evoked Response) Testing (i.e. eye stimulation with a test pattern)

You can read the full official guidelines for evaluating ocular problems here.  You can read more about the options available to you here.

Pennsylvania Disability Attorneys Offering Free Consultations

SSI and SSDI are tremendous resources, but qualifying is often difficult.  Navigating the application or appeals process can be challenging, and statistically, more applicants are rejected than approved.  An experienced Philadelphia disability lawyer can help you succeed. To schedule your completely free and confidential case evaluation, call the law offices of Young, Marr & Associates at (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania, or contact us online today.