Social Security Disability for Blindness or Low Vision | Disability Advisor
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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.


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 2015, it was $1,820.00 as compared to $1,090.00 for non-blind workers. This means that you could have earnings of $1,820.00 per month in 2015 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, $1,090 in 2015, 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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  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.



  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.



      • 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 to see whether you might qualify financially. If you are not sure, apply to get a formal determination.


  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.



  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.


  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.


  6. my my says:

    Hey I was born with poor vision and now my vision is 20/100 and can not be fixed even with corrective lenses. I’ve tried numerous time to get a license but was told I don’t qualify to ever get one. So I applied for ssi once and got denied and I was wondering is there any way I could get aproved

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear My My,

      To be approved for disability benefits, your low vision has to keep you from doing any occupation. You can apply again and appeal the denial. You can also contact the local Commission for the Blind and/or your state’s Department of Vocational Rehabilitation or a private nonprofit such as Goodwill to get vocational guidance and perhaps training that will allow you to work with your reduced vision.


  7. Bridget says:

    Hi! I have congenital glaucoma in both eyes as well as Amblyopia, and my doctor told me I am legally blind by measurement of peripheral vision being less than 20 degrees in the better eye. I have a daughter and so I cannot quit my job. I am a cook and completely incapable of doing the job safely at this point. My employer is looking the other way and allowing me to continue. Just today I filed my reconsideration for SSDI. My first app was denied because I was making over the 1800 a month limit. I am now paying for transportation services and I believe this puts me below SGA for blindness. Do you think I have a chance at winning this time around? How long can I expect to wait for a decision? My doctor wrote a letter recommendation the transportation and saying that this line of work isn’t acceptable anymore- do you think that will help?

    I live in the state of WA.

    Thank you!!

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Bridget,

      If you must have transportation services, rather than public transportation, the expenses may be allowed to reduce your gross earnings to below the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level of $1,800 for individuals who are legally blind. The fact that the line of work in unacceptable will not be relevant because you are actually working. You might also investigate Blind Commission or Voc Rehab services to see whether you can get into another line of work.


  8. Denise says:

    My husband is 56 years old has driven commercial vehicles for more than 25 years. He was diagnosed with glaucoma about 8 years ago and has since had to apply for a federal waiver every two years thru the Vision Program at USDOT to maintain his CDL. They require his doctor to certify that he as sufficient vision to operate a commercial motor vehicle. We feel the doctor has hesitation to make that statement. If the doctor is unwilling to do that would he qualify for disability benefits because he cannot work in the field he’s worked in the past?
    Thank you.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Denise,

      Given your husband’s age and his long work history in one occupation, if he cannot perform that occupation he has a good chance of being approved for Social Security Disability.


      • Susan says:

        Dear Kay,
        Can you tell me the percentage of blind or low vision folks who receive SSDI? I can only find the statistics for SSO (18.5% received SSO benefits). I found this on the NFB website.

  9. necosia says:

    I am LEGALLY blind and was approved for benefits alj on Jan 7 when will my benefits start are how soon

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Necosia,

      It takes one to three months to get benefits started depending on whether you were approved for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability (SSDI) or both.


  10. LoToya says:

    I have a question. I’m wondering if I may qualify for disability? I have an eye disease called Kerataconus which causes my corneas to thin. I have been living with this condition for quite some time and was recently told by a surgeon that because the condition has progressed for so long the only thing I can do at this point is have corneal transplants.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear LoToya,

      You could qualify for disability benefits if you are legally blind or your eyesight otherwise keeps you from working.


  11. stacey says:

    Hi, I was wondering if I would possibly be approved due to having cogenital glaucoma, keratoconus, and astigmatism. I am currently working, but my vision is becoming worse and I am not able to fulfill my duties in an effective manner due to poor vision in both eyes even with the use of corrective lenses. I was told by my ophthalmologist that my vision would only be corrected by a corneal transplant.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Stacey,

      Whether or not your condition meets Social Security law’s definition of disability depends on your visual limitations and your work history and education. If you stop work or drop your work hours so that you are earning less than $1,090 a month, I suggest that you file an application to get a decision.

      In the meantime, you might contact the Commission for the Blind and/or Vocational Rehabilitation to find out whether there are any adaptive devices that you could be using that would allow you to continue working either in your present occupation or in another.


  12. Jen says:

    Hi Kay,
    I have a large (18mm) aneurysm resting on my left optic nerve which causes 2400 vision in my left eye. The right eye with correction is 20/30. I had brain surgery a couple months ago called “Coiling” where coils were placed inside the aneurysm to stop it from occluding the artery it’s attached and avoid a stroke.

    Now that I made it through the surgery, I know my conditions will stop me from working as a nurse. I’m concerned that my poor vision will cause inaccuracies when administering medication to my patients as well as while charting nurse notes accurately, etc.. I haven’t worked in five months as I’ve been unable due to multiple diagnoses (below) causing right side weakness, shortness of breath, and other symptoms.

    I also have hypertension, asthma, Hyperthyroid, a fibrillation and other diagnoses.

    So, my question is if I’d qualify for Disability for poor vision along with the other problems I’m experiencing?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Jen,

      If you have been a nurse for most of your work history, your combination of impairments may qualify you for benefits. I suggest that you file an application being thorough in listing all your conditions, treatment history, limitations and restrictions. Also discuss your claim with your physicians so they know you are applying based on a combination of symptoms, not just what may be treated by that one doctor.

      If you are denied, appeal using an attorney. You can obtain a knowledgeable Social Security attorney by calling Disability Advisor at 1-888-393-1010. You do not have to pay any legal fees up front and you will pay attorney fees only if you are approved for benefits. Social Security law sets the amount your attorney can charge and the Social Security Administration pays the attorney directly from the retroactive award at the time it sends your back pay to you. So, it’s all very easy and risk-free.


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