June 19, 2020
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan declared the last week of June to be “Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness Week.” Ever since, this has been an occasion intended to raise awareness and promote education around deaf-blindness. Helen Keller is arguably the most well-known deaf-blind American in history, as she proved that a disability does not need to limit what a person can achieve. Despite losing her sight, hearing, and speech due to a childhood illness, Helen Keller worked hard as a student and went on to become a popular author and lecturer. She was also the first deaf-blind individual to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree—inspiring generations after her not to limit themselves despite obstacles that may stand in their way.
If an individual with reduced hearing/vision chooses to apply for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits, that certainly does not mean he/she will never be able to perform any type of work again. Many people receive crucial financial support from SSDI while they are going through medical treatment or rehabilitation, which may include learning the skills needed to pursue an entirely different career.
Deaf-blind individuals often have a combination of vision and hearing loss ranging from total blindness/total deafness to moderate or poor vision and hearing. This may have begun at birth or developed later in life as the result of a separate condition. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a designated set of standards by which eyesight and hearing problems are evaluated in order to determine if they may qualify someone for SSDI benefits, including:
- SSA considers someone to be blind if their vision can’t be corrected to better than 20/200 in their “better eye” or if their visual field is 20 degrees or less in the better eye for at least 12 months.
- For claims citing hearing loss, word recognition scores are reviewed—but full evaluation requirements vary depending on whether or not the hearing issue has been treated with cochlear implants.
- To be awarded SSDI benefits, SSA must determine that an individual is unable to work for a minimum period of 12 months due to their cited medical condition(s).
Hearing/vision problems may also qualify someone for SSDI as byproducts of other conditions, such as Usher Syndrome Type 1—which is on SSA’s Compassionate Allowance List. This rare inherited condition causes deafness, balance problems, and retinitis pigmentosa—an eye disorder that causes progressive vision loss—and SSA considers it severe enough to potentially qualify someone for an expedited SSDI award. Many individuals living with reduced vision and/or hearing may also be able to collect benefits while working, depending on their income. SSA has specific guidelines for these cases, which can be found on their website.
We take great pride in our role as advocates and our ability to help individuals living with deaf-blindness or other health conditions that may threaten their ability to work as they seek the financial stability that SSDI benefits can provide to them and their family. If you or a loved one are living with a health condition that you believe may qualify for SSDI, please contact us; we’re here to answer your questions and help in any way we can!
Nothing in this post is intended as advice or a suggestion to elect or not elect to claim benefits of any kind, including Social Security benefits, nor is it intended as financial advice in any way. The decision to claim benefits is a personal one that is contingent upon each individual’s unique circumstances.