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

By   /  March 3, 2016  /  198 Comments

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 2016, it was $1,820.00 as compared to $1,130.00 for non-blind workers. This means that you could have earnings of $1,820.00 per month in 2016 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 2016, 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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198 Comments

  1. Robert says:

    Hello,I filed a disability claim for my child when she was 5 years old.They gave her several test.She failed very test they gave her and they still sent a paper denying her?So from what i have gathered from people the government will deny a person rolling into the building to apply with no limbs.I was told everyone no matter whom has to apply twice sometimes tens of time??Is this true?.She has had surgery on her eye muscles as her eyes would severely pull inwards.On top of that she wears coke bottle glasses and she cannot see without them.I feel despair and i almost have had a nervous break down at times because our DRs can be so picky.We are poor and have public insurance so she still requires eye care because her eyes are still crooked.She was seeing a dr around the way but this dr sent us to another dr because this dr didnt want to take our insurance any longer,The same happened with dr number two.So she hasn’t been to a specialist dr just a dr for regular eye check up’s.She is in need of care i dont know what to do?When she was a toddler we used to get very offended when people would tell us to get disability for her.Now she is twelve and her eyes are not getting any better.God i would give her my perfect vision eye’s in a second 🙁 I am reaching out to the internet begging for anyone to help me with knowledge of this matter.Please help me.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Robert,

      Not everyone has to appeal to be approved. Many claims are approved on first application.

      I suggest that you read the article “What Medical Conditions Are Required to Meet SSI Disability Qualifications and to Get an SSI Approval?”, which is under the SSI tab at the top of this web page. The article explains how childhood disability is determined. If you think that your child meets those requirements, I suggest hiring an experienced Social Security attorney to file the appeal. It could also be helpful to request a copy of your daughter’s file so you can see the exact reason for the denial.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

      • Robert says:

        I am sorry.I meant it seems everyone is denied the first time they apply.So when we were denied we were scarred away thinking one decision is final.But after reading further into this issue it is clear to me now people should apply more than once.It’s been a few years but the paper they sent us stated she did not meet disability standard’s But the poor girl cant see without her glasses.This is why i am very confused on the matter.We will try again.All i want to do is be able to pay for her to have private insurance so we dont have to travel 50 miles to have her be seen.But anyway thank you again.

        • Kay Derochie says:

          Dear Robert,

          You can apply for your daughter again, but her visual ability will be assessed as her best vision when corrected by glasses.

          Sincerely,
          Kay

  2. Sherrie says:

    I have not been able to work since a back injury in 2003. Then I contracted Lyne disease in 2006 and now have late stage 3 Lyne disease that has injured my eyesight profoundly over the past 9 years. Before 2003 I had 49 work credits but now with the past injurys and with my eyesight affected with Ophthalmic Migraines that last for hours on a daily basis I have finally realized I will never work again, bar a miracle recovery. My ophthalmology Dr says it will continue to worsen and I may lose my vision permantly. When the migraines occur I lose complete vision in my left eye with snow blocking everything and my right can not focus when it starts. If I don’t close my eyes I get vertigo and fall.
    My dr says I qualify for low vision. But I do not have enough work credits now. I’m 54 and it says that I may qualify for SSDI based on my spouses credits. I do not qualify for SSI. Can you explain how I can use my husbands credits for low vision? I do not understand the below statement?
    I found this on SSA:
    If you’re blind, you can earn credits anytime during your working years. Credits for your work after you become blind can be used
    to qualify you for benefits if you don’t have enough credits at the time you become blind.
    Also, if you don’t have enough credits to get Social Security disability benefits based on your own earnings, you may be able to get benefits based on the earnings of one of your parents or your spouse.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Sherrie,

      You must be either sixty-two years old or have your husband’s child under age sixteen in your care to receive dependent benefits on your husband’s earnings record. Additionally, he must be receiving benefits for you to receive beneifts. If he dies before you, you can apply for disabled widow’s benefits because you are over age fifty.

      To apply for Social Security Disability benefits on your own earnings record, you have to prove that you became disabled while you were still insured. I suggest that you contact the Social Security Administration to find out your date last insured, which could be as late as some time in 2008 if you were working steadily in the five years before you stopped work. You could file a claim claiming a disability onset date while you were still insured. If you do this, you need to write up a simple, bullet-point type chronology of the beginning of each of your medical problems and the points in which they worsened and a list of all health care providers and get the records to submit. You also need to list in the chronology the symptoms you were having that caused you to stop work and when additional symptoms began to occur and who they further limited you. Imaging of your back from 2003 would be important.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  3. sherry lindsey says:

    i am 50 years old and have been a school bus driver for 26 years. i was just digonsd with monculor vision. i can only see out of 1 eye at time. i have backed in to at leaste 7 mail boxes and feneces in the last year i have almost been demoted because on the lack of depth perseption would i qulify for disablity

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Sherry,

      I’m not sure whether you would qualify for Social Security Disability. If you have transferable skills to work in another occupation you might not. However, given the safety issues involved in your occupation, I suggest that you consider for investigating whether you are covered by short-term disability (STD) and/or long-term disability (LTD) under a policy provided by the school district. Usually STD require only that you be disabled from your current occupation and LTD only disabled from your own occupation for the first two years of benefits. While receiving those benefits, you could apply for Social Security Disability and get a formal determination.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  4. Rafael O Hernandez says:

    I asked for my social security card for the 3rd time this year but this time it never got to the mailing adress i was staying at i moved now i got a different adress nd now i cant work because i dont have a social security card what do i do?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Rafael,

      Visit the following link, which will tell you whether or not you can request a replacement card online or you have to go to an office to present documents.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  5. Wendy says:

    Hi, I’m 42 and have worked off and on throughout my life. I’ve been unemployed for 6yrs. I had been denied for ss/I and it went all the way to court and denied. My attorney was not helpful.
    I have poor vision, bleeding retinas, retinopothy, neuropathy , type 2 diabetes, Eczema, Sleep Apnea, arthritis in my knees, missing cartilage in my knees, hips give out, morbidly obese, depression, bells palsy, nerve damage in my hands and feet. I have difficulty walking and sitting for any lengths of time.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Wendy,

      If the hearing decision was less than sixty days ago, you can appeal the judge’s decision, but you will need an attorney’s help. I am not recommending it, but you do have the right to change attorneys.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  6. Robin Minor says:

    I am a 50 year old black woman who has been out of work for 6 months. I have had high blood problems for over 20 years. I have worked off and on mostly all my life with no help hardly. But in 2012 I had a stroke, and every since then my health has gone worse. I am in and out of the hospital. I have been diagnosed with chronic hypertension and chronic high blood pressure. I have low vision, sharp pains in my chest, I vomit a lot, dizzy spells, fainting spells and rheumatoid arthritis. I have seen specialist after specialist. A cardiac specialist, and a hypertension specialist. I had 2 PCP, in the past 7 months. My blood pressure runs at over 200/100 on a daily basis. I take 8 different medications which aren’t doing any good. I sometimes do get down to 140/100 every once and a blue moon. I have pains in my chest almost everyday. And the pain last for about 4-5 seconds, where it’s either needle like, or tightening in my chest. I went to the disability doctor the Social Security people assigned me to yesterday. My blood pressure was 140/95, but I was throwing up and had a bad headache. I had taken all 8 pills all at once to not to have a high blood pressure. Can I still get either SSI or SSDI even if it was that low? And when I got to the house I almost fainted. What are my chances of getting disability in August? Its been since December when I applied.

    • Robin Minor says:

      I want to know if I will be receiving back pay benefits too. If I can most likely get it in August this year?

      • Kay Derochie says:

        Dear Robin,

        If you are approved with a disability onset date in the past, you will receive back pay in addition to back pay for the period of time it takes to get payment started.

        Sincerely,
        Kay

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Robin,

      You have not told me what transpired during the examination other than your blood pressure reading so I can’t really say what the doctor’s report might be. Based on how you describe your health, I suggest that if you are denied that you appeal with the help of an experienced Social Security attorney. When you hire a Social Security attorney, 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 your retroactive award before they send your back pay to you.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  7. Bridget h. says:

    I have worked at in home care since I was 18.In 2013 I woke up from a minor hospital procedure with the worst migraine ever and has never stopped for a second in almost 3 years. Within weeks I started falling ,causing terrible back and neck pain( causing me to not be able to sit or stand for long periods), I have uncontrollable tremors in my hands and neck.Along with chronic fatigue numbness in my hands and feet and constantly wanting to sleep due to medications.I’ve seen countless doctors and specialist and was diagnosed with pseudotumor cerebri a little over a week ago.Now im on another medication (which is to lower the pressure and has mildly helped with the headache.I still have all other symtoms and was recently told i have 0% visability in half my left eye and the same in my right eye. I applied for disability in 2014 and was denied I appealed with an attourney and finally have a cout date in september 2016.what are my odds of getting disability?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Bridget,

      If you have good documentation, I’d say you have a reasonable chance for approval.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  8. Keshara says:

    Hello Kay,

    I just found out my vision is 20/800 in both eyes without corrected lens. With corrected lens like glasses its 20/20 so I’m able to see what I’m doing around me plus I’m nearsighted and have astigmatism. Is it possible to qualify under low vision with corrected lens for SSI benefits? With them I still have problems and without I definitely have problems and sometimes I’m unable to get annuals due to lack of insurance coverage. Also it been times where my glasses break and I try to fix them just to get by because without them it’s like I’m blessed mf. Please give me some information on this matter thank you!

    • Keshara says:

      Auto correct I meant to say I feel like I’m completely blind! Sorry

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Keshara,

      You would not qualify for benefits based on low vision because lenses correct your vision to 20/20, which is the best vision can be uncorrected. The only exception would be if you had very restricted peripheral vision.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  9. Pat says:

    I am 59 years old, have worked as a bookkeeper most of my adult life. I had cataract surgery in both eyes last year. (Apr 2015 & July 2015). In Feb 2016 I developed floaters. A large one in my left eye, that stretches from top to bottom of my vision, moves left to right and back all day long. The floaters in my right eye are small / numerous, do not impair my vision. I went to my regular eye doctor 2x, and my eye surgeon 1x, within a week of getting the floaters. “Nothing can be done”, “you’ll get used to them”, “due to age”. Last week I was terminated from my job because I could not do my job fast enough. And they were correct. I have difficulty with accuracy if I don’t double check the work, look that the documents for a longer amount of time, have problems with 6’s and 8’s, 1’s and l’s – I make mistakes, etc. I’m afraid that I can not do accounting anymore. My sister says that I be illegible for disability. Thoughts?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Pat,

      Based on your age and work history, you might qualify for benefits based on low vision. I suggest that to support your claim you try to get something from the ophthalmologist that describes your functional visual limitations. Also, get a statement from your employer about the reasons for your dismissal. Also, check to see if your employer has a short-term or long-term disability insurance policy under which you are covered.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  10. karen says:

    Hi – applied for social security disability in March 2015 – just received letter of denial. I am legally blind in right eye after many surgeries and ongoing injections. I have PVR a rare disease that pulls at your retina. I have no periphial vision, constant double vision, headaches and eye pain. 2 questions
    1. Do I file an appeal by myself OR hire attorney and have him help me with the rest of the process
    2. I never talked to any of my doctors- should I do that and be sure they are on my side and support me. Does SS actually talk to doctors or just read reports?
    Thanks for your help

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Karen,

      Social Security would not usually talk with your doctors. They might request either reports or records or both. I suggest that you request a copy of your claim file so that you can find out what information is in file and what is missing and the exact reasons for the denial, which will appear in the decision memo in file. This will be useful in addressing the pertinent points when you appeal. You need to submit eye exam results that support the symptoms that you experience. It would be very advisable to talk with your ophthamologist about your symptoms and the functional problems you are having and your reasons for applying for disablity benefits. Perhaps the doctor will write a summarizing report to support your claim.

      It could be helpful to engage an attorney now to see if you can get approved without the very long wait for a hearing as part of a second appeal. When you hire a Social Security attorney, 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 your retroactive award before they send your back pay to you.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  11. William says:

    I have a a rare condition called ectopia lentis causing my lenses to slowly move more and more out of place in my eye. My eyesight will get worse and worse over time. Im 21 and my eyesight is 20/40 left and 20/100 right with my glasses. I was told i am literally at the bare minimun to legally drive. In a few months i probably wont be able to drive. Is there anything i will able to do when this happens.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear William,

      Eligibility for disability benefits is based on the inability to work rather than the inability to drive. If you become unable to work, you can apply for disability benefits based on low vision.

      If you are now working or going to school or plan to, I suggest that you now start investigating other modes of transportation such as public transit or carpooling or hiring someone to drive you–possibly someone you work with who for a small fee would be willing to go a bit out of the way to drive you. Some larger communities have transportation systems that provide door-to-door transportation for the handicapped that you could use for grocery shopping and appointments, but it might not be practical for work; you’d have to check.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  12. Adolfo Gutierrez says:

    im 18 years old but was diagnosed with keratoconus when i was 14. I have keratoconus on both of my eyes, my eye sight is very poor. Recently i tried to get my drivers license but wasn’t able to pass the vision test even if i wore my glasses. I will start college in the fall 2016 (sep 22nd) but i have trouble reading and anything involving my vision, i see double. I haven’t worked but i was wondering if i am eligible for for social security?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Adolfo,

      You might be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability, which does not require work credits for U.S. citizens and some legal aliens. To get an appointment to file a claim by telephone or in your nearest Social Security office, call 1-800-772-1213. Information about the SSI program is available in the articles under the SSI tab at the top of this webpage. Just a note: most colleges can connect you with resources that might you be helpful with note-taking or other college-related tasks.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  13. Marco rojas says:

    My son is blind from one eue is only ten would he be able to qualify for disability

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Marco,

      If your child’s blindness in one eye is affecting his ability to perform in school to a degree that he is not in the normal range for a child his age, he might qualify.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  14. Cara says:

    I am legally blind in both eyes. I qualify for the federal income tax credit. I am a high school teacher right now, but am having difficulty performing my job duties, such as supervising students, performing behavioral observations, and detailed paperwork review. I know I make more than is required to qualify for SSDI but am concerned that if I quit my job I will be denied anyway.
    Does SSI administration consider teaching one of the jobs that a legally blind person can reasonably do? I could argue a very good case but ultimately they are going to determine that and I don’t want to do anything that will put me in a bad situation.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Cara,

      If you are statutorily blind wearing glasses or contacts, in other words with your vision corrected as much as possible, you will meet the Social Security listings for disability. If you decide to stop work, check to see if you are also covered under an employer short-term disability (STD) and/or long-term disability (LTD) policy. Provision A.4. in the following link, tells you what evidence needs to be submitted.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  15. Justin Mendoza says:

    I have an astigmatism in my left eye and am blind in my right eye since birth. Would I qualify for any sort of SSi benefits?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Justin,

      It is possible that you could be approved based on low vision if your astigmatism is not correctable with eye glasses. Just a note: If you are having trouble finding the right work with your visual limitations, you might try contacting the Vocational Rehabilitation Department of your state or the Commission for the Blind (even though you are not blind)to see whether you can get training or occupational guidance for occupations you can perform with your limitations.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  16. MJ says:

    I have 20/80 in the left eye and 20/70 in the right eye that cannot be corrected with glasses. I have Stargardts disease that causes the destruction of the macula and atrophy of the retina as a whole. My vision is blurred and distorted because of damaged areas to the retina. There is no treatment or cure for Stargardts and over time my vision will deteriorate to 20/200 or worse. I am 56 years old and highly educated with two master’s degrees and ABD on my doctorate (which I am unable to complete because of vision and financial limitations). Would I have a chance of getting social security disability being that I am highly educated? I am self-employed and am unable to do the current work as a research analyst at levels that produce substantial gainful income because of the inability to read do to blurred and distorted vision. What are my chances of getting approved for disability benefits given my vision is 20/70 and 20/80.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear MJ,

      You might be approved based on low vision. Your age could also be of help depending on your work history. Given that you are not working at the Substantial Gainful Activity level, I recommend filing a claim.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  17. Spilios says:

    hello ! my left eye have Eye Cataract and i have done 2 surgeries and nothing fixed.. doctors say ”nothing technology yet to fix it” because is traumatic cataract… i have all my medical history papers and my father takes disability too… i see only for one eye with glasses only because i have myopia … i can take disability for this? our family benefits per year is low .
    please answer me on my email … have a good day !

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Spilios,

      I answer questions only through this website. If you are under age eighteen and are having problems in school or with your activities of daily living because of your eyesight or you are age eighteen or older and are unable to work due to your vision, I suggest that you file a disability claim. I’d also recommend contacting the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation or the Commission for the Blind to see whether you could get job training or placement for work that would be within your visual limitations.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

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