Social Security Disability Benefits
for the Legally Blind
Being blind or having a visual impairment can be very financially taxing. Not only are there direct medical costs, such as doctor visits, medications, nursing home care and guide dogs, but there are also indirect costs, such as the inability to work and generate an income. The lack of income, added to mounting medical expenses, can cause financial difficulties to spiral quickly out of control.
Fortunately, in some cases, Social Security Disability benefits can alleviate some of this financial strain.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers two programs that the blind and visually impaired may qualify for:
- Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Please read on for an overview of these programs and how to apply.
The Social Security Administration's Definition of Legal Blindness
The SSA defines legal blindness (also called statutory blindness) as best corrected visual acuity of 20/200 or worse in the better eye; or a visual field limitation such that the widest diameter of the visual field, in the better eye, is 20 degrees or less.
To receive Supplemental Security Income, your income must not exceed a certain limit. But keep in mind that all expenses enabling you to work (such as transportation costs) can be deducted from your income total.
When you apply for Social Security Disability benefits, the SSA will compare your condition with a listing of conditions known as the Social Security Blue Book. Legal blindness and visual impairments are covered under Section 2.00 of the Blue Book under "Special Senses and Speech."
- Section 2.02 covers loss of visual acuity.
- Section 2.03 covers contraction of the visual field.
- Section 2.04 covers loss of visual efficiency.
The Blue Book listings appear on the Social Security Administration website, and they include information on which tests are used to measure visual acuity, visual field and visual efficiency.
Applying for Social Security Disability Insurance
For most people, qualifying for SSDI requires having earned a certain amount of work credits. These work credits are calculated based on tax contributions you have made during your career.
But if you are legally blind or visually impaired and unable to work for two years or more due to your impairment, then you can apply for a Disability Support Pension through the SSDI program. This means that you do not necessarily need to have the work credits that other disability applicants would need in order to qualify.
Applying for Supplemental Security Income
If you don't have enough work credits for SSDI, you may be able to qualify for SSI, a needs-based program intended for low income individuals and families. To qualify, applicants cannot exceed the income limit set in place by the SSA. As of 2013, the income limit is $1,740 per month.
Keep in mind that the income limit for blind and visually impaired individuals is higher than that for those who have other disabilities. However, all expenses that enable you to work can be excluded from your income total. Such expenses include transportation to and from work, service animal care and more.
Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits
You can apply for Social Security Disability benefits online at the SSA's website or in person at your local Social Security office. When applying in person, make sure you bring all copies of past and recent medical records.
These records should include a history of your diagnoses, a history of your hospitalizations, the findings of physical and mental exams and a personal statement from your treating physicians about the limitations caused by your condition.
You will also need to bring your employment history and financial records.
When applying online, you will receive a cover sheet that will allow you to fax your medical documentation in. And you will receive a decision regarding your disability claim within three to six months of the date of your application.
If you are approved for benefits, your notice of award will provide information about receiving your first disability payment. If you are denied benefits, you will have 60 days in which to file an appeal.
Filing a Disability Appeal
The first stage of appeals is the request for reconsideration. Note that most appeals are not granted at this stage of the appeal process. Instead, most disability applicants who appeal receive their benefits as a result of the second stage of the appeal process, which is the disability hearing.
If you find the application or appeal process too difficult, or if you are denied benefits, you can always contact a Social Security Disability attorney or advocate. These professionals can make sure your application is correct and complete; and if your case is denied, they can help you understand why and what you need to do to strengthen your case to overturn the SSA's decision.
- Summary on the Social Security Administration website of the steps for applying for Social Security disability benefits either in-person or online.
- Information on the Social Security Administration website on eligibility requirements for Supplemental Security Income.
Molly Clarke is a writer for Social Security Disability Help, a website owned by a for-profit marketing organization that offers its site visitors access to attorneys and advocates. All About Vision has no financial relationship with this marketing organization and cannot vouch for the accuracy of information found on its websites.
[Page updated November 2013]