Can I get disability from Social Security if I have low vision, but am not totally blind?
Learn how blindness, statutory blindness, or low vision can qualify you to get disability from Social Security and about work incentives for the blind.
Social Security Disability for the Blind
You can get disability from Social Security for complete blindness and statutory blindness if you are not working too much to 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 2020, it is $2,110 as compared to $1,260 for non-blind workers. This means that you could have gross wages or net profit from self-employment up to (not including) $2,110 per month in 2020 and still potentially be considered disabled. Additionally, your countable earnings can be reduced by the cost of Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWEs). Finally, if you blind and self-employed, Social Security looks only at your self-employment net earnings and not at the services you perform for the business in determining whether you are performing substantial gainful activity.
Social Security Disability Based on Low Vision
It is worthwhile 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 your education, training and experience to determine whether you are disabled. You might qualify because your eyesight is too poor to do work you have done in the past or 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, $1,220 in 2019, when 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?