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Can I get disability from Social Security if I have low vision, but am not totally blind?

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Learn how blindness, statutory blindness, or low vision can qualify you to get disability from Social Security and about work incentives for the blind.

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Watch the Video: “Can I get disability from Social Security if I have low vision, but am not totally blind?”

Social Security Disability for the Blind

You can get disability from Social Security for complete blindness and statutory blindness if you meet the Social Security’s definition of Disability.

Statutory blindness is defined as either having visual acuity for distance of 20/200 or worse in your best eye with the use of corrective lenses or having a restricted field of vision in your best eye “such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees.”

Social Security’s definition of disability includes “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity.” If you are blind or statutorily blind, as defined by Social Security law, then when Social Security evaluates your new claim or your continuing eligibility for benefits, they will use the benchmark for blind individuals to determine whether you are performing or can perform substantial work. The earnings level for substantial work by a blind worker is higher than for a non-blind worker. For example, in 2014, it was $1,800.00 as compared to $1,070.00 for non-blind workers. This means that you could have earnings of $1,800.00 per month in 2014 and still potentially be considered disabled. Additionally, if you blind and self-employed, Social Security looks only at your earnings and not at the services you perform for the business, as it does for non-blind workers.

Social Security Disability Based on Low Vision

It is worth while to note, that if you have low vision, but are not statutorily blind, you may still be disabled under Social Security’s definition of disability, which considers your past work experience and, if you are under age fifty, your education, training and experience. You might qualify because your eyesight is too poor to do work you have done in the past or, if you are under age fifty, any other work for which you have transferable skills. Another possibility is that you might get disability benefits because you have limitations from multiple conditions—your low vision and other medical or psychological conditions. If you are working while applying for disability, Social Security will use the substantial work benchmark for non-blind workers, $1,040 in 2013, in applying its definition of disability to your claim.

For more information about how Social Security evaluates your claim and about working while claiming disability from Social Security, see our articles “How does the Social Security Administration apply Social Security Laws to determine if I am disabled?” and “Can I Keep Getting Benefits When I Am Working on Social Security Disability?”

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12 Comments

  1. David Massey says:

    Being blind and receiving 1800.00 per month in 2014. Can I average 1800.00 per month for the 12 month period of 2014 or is it a flat 1800.00 per month no matter how many weeks are in a month?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear David,

      Social Security might average your earnings to determine whether you, as a blind individual, is engaging in substantial gainful activity; however, keep in mind that if your earnings are over $1,800 in some months, it would have to be under $1,800 in other months to result in an average under $1,800.

      Sincerely,

      Kay

  2. Barry says:

    (long question, sorry)
    I have low vision, but test around 20/100 with glasses but glasses distort my sense of space, and i have developed recent visual obstructions (like floaters) but i’d still test the same acuity and field.
    1: can this count as blind?

    I applied in 2009 and was denied because my work was deemed a type that could be substantially gainful (receptionist) yet I did not then and never in my 16 years working have earned near the income threshold (blind or otherwise).
    I was recently laid off and replaced and feel I face clear, but unprovable hiring discrimination when people know i don’t see well. the question is,
    A: when should i say my disability began (mine is a congenital birth to death eye condition, but I worked (earning about $800/mo gross) until a couple weeks ago?
    B: and can i site hiring discrimination (not just inability to perform a job) as part of the barrier to employment (it is obvious that i don’t see normally but I also have a disfigurement) and cite not having access to a driver’s license (often a job requirement–but most companies will not put that in writing)

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Barry,

      As you describe your vision, you do not qualify for Social Security Disability based on blindness. Theoretically, you might qualify based on low vision, but you have already been denied once. (Full-time receptionist work at minimum wage would result in substantial earnings.) If you apply again, I recommend having an attorney present you case. An alternative would be to contact the Department of Vocation Rehabilitation of your state and/or non-profit organizations such as Goodwill to help place you in work that is within your abilities, where you would not face discrimination.

      Sincerely,

      Kay

      • marlio salas says:

        Ok hi im 16 and im totally blind in my left eye and have a very poor vision in my right eye and my doctor told me that if i dont keep my glasses on at all times its a possibility that i could go fully blind so my question is would i be considered disabled with my eyes being this bad i mean ive never had a job before because my mom fears that something might happen and at this young at i have varquise vains in my right leg and it spreads bad and sorry if i spelled that wrong but am i disabled

        • Kay Derochie says:

          Dear Marlio,

          If your family has limited income and assets, you might qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. I suggest that you discuss this with your parents and have them read the articles under the SSI tab on this website http://www.disabilityadvisor.com to see whether you might qualify financially. If you are not sure, apply to get a formal determination.

          Sincerely,
          Kay

  3. T.K. says:

    I’m blind in one eye and have glaucoma in the other eye. I also have mental and back problems. I just got a letter stating that I was approve for medical but they are waiting to see about non-medical approval.
    I would like to know if I get disability and later on decide to move to another state where the cost of living is higher would my monthly payment go up any.

    Thank you very much.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear T.K.,

      If you were approved for Social Security Disability (SSDI), your benefit amount will not change from state to state. If you are approved for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), your payment could change if you move to a state that has an SSI state supplement.

      Sincerely,

      Kay

  4. Tina Lake says:

    My husband is 49 years old and legally blind. It is from a condition, ocular albinism, that he was born with and does not change over time. He received SSI when he was younger and converted to SSD for a short time in his early twenties after establishing enough work credits. He then began earning too much money to continue to qualify. He has been employed most of his adult life, making a good income for most of it. There have been a few lengthy periods of unemployment because his condition limits his opportunities, but he has never pursued restarting his disability benefits. However, he lost his job in February of 2013 and has had difficulty obtaining a new job in his field (marketing). He did work for a short period of time, January – April, 2014 (earning above SGA for blindness), in a related but different field. However, the amount of reading and computer work required was very difficult for him because of his vision impairment. He has been unemployed since May 2, 2014. We now feel like the combination of his age and the limitations placed on him by his vision issues, make it highly unlikely that he will be able return to working at the level at which he has in the past. Therefore we are looking into his reapplying for disability benefits.

    Since he was approved in the past and his condition has never changed, and he is currently not working, it seems as if he should be approved again. However, we are confused with some things.
    When is his onset of disability date for a new application? February 2013? May 2014? or something different? Also, what waiting periods will and won’t apply to him since he received SSD in the past? He also received Medicare back then, so would he still have a waiting period for that or not? Finally, do you see any issues with him qualifying that we are not seeing?

    Thanks for your help.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Tina,

      Your husband may or may not be approved for Social Security Disability based on a current application. When he was approved previously, he did not have the same work experience and work skills and knowledge that he has now. At age forty-nine, he must be disabled from all occupations, not just work he has done in the past. Once he turns fifty, he has to be disabled only from work he has done in the past. All that said, given the severity of your husband’s condition, there’s always a possibility of approval and it would be wise to file an application to get a formal decision. He should claim February 2013 as his disability date and list his work in 2014 as an unsuccessful work attempt. Because it has been more than five years since your husband received benefits, if he is approved, he will have a five-month unpaid waiting period. He will also have a twenty-four month waiting period for Medicare.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  5. Stevie D. Campbell says:

    I am Usher Syndrome (Deaf/Blind) My right eye worse 150/200 and left 60/200 but I still have low vision. I should put “Legally Blind” in my SS. Social Security Adm. still me “Deaf” that’s all. My doctor eye told supposed put “Usher Syndrome”. Can I work earn up yo $1,800?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Stevie,

      You should put your diagnosis of Usher Syndrome on your application, as advised by your doctor. I would also recommend that you state that you are legally blind with 150/200 and 60/200 vision. If you are approved as legally blind and you work, your work earnings will be considered substantial if you have $1,800 or more in gross wages or net self-employment earnings. If you are approved based on low vision (not blindness) the substantial earnings level will be $1,070.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

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