People who have significant visual impairment or loss can get benefits if they are unable to work. The Social Security Administration (SSA) applies different rules that can make it easier for people with vision issues. Here is an overview of the Social Security benefits and services for people who are blind or have low vision.
The Rules About Visual Impairment
If your vision cannot get corrected to better than 20/200 in your better eye or you have 20 degrees or less in your better eye, you might qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Your visual impairment must have met the severity requirements for at least one year or be expected to last at least that long.
You might qualify for SSDI or SSI benefits, if your vision problems by themselves or in combination with other medical conditions keep you from being able to work. In this situation, you might not have to meet the 20/200 vision or 20 degrees of visual field factors.
SSDI and SSI Explained
SSDI recipients must have worked for enough time in jobs that paid into the Social Security system. If your employer withholds money from your paycheck for Social Security, you are paying into the system and earning “work credits.” The number of work credits you need will depend on your age. If you do not have enough credits, you might qualify for disability benefits based on your spouse’s or parents’ work records.
You must also not make more than $2,040 a month in 2019 to qualify for SSDI. (Non-blind applicants cannot earn more than $1,220 a month in 2019.) If you are visually impaired and self-employed, you can qualify, if your average monthly earnings are less than $2,040 a month, using the 2019 earnings cap.
If you did not work long enough at jobs that paid Social Security taxes, you might qualify for SSI benefits instead of SSDI. You must meet the same disability standards, as well as have low income and resources (assets).
Accessible Information from the SSA
The SSA provides accessible versions of all SSA publications. You can request any SSA publication in these formats:
- Audio cassette tapes
- Compact discs
- Enlarged print
Most of the SSA publications are immediately available as audio recordings on the SSA website.
Different Rules the SSA Uses People with Visual Impairment
People who have vision issues that affect their ability to work, can get the benefit of unique rules the SSA does not apply to people without visual impairment. For example:
- The SSA has special work incentive programs for you, if you receive SSI.
- If the work you do after age 55 requires less skill and ability than the work you did before age 55, the SSA will treat excess income less strictly, than if you were not blind. In this situation, if your earnings in a given month in 2019 exceed $2,040, the SSA will not terminate your benefits. The SSA will merely suspend your benefits, until your income falls below the earnings cap.
- If you do not get disability benefits now, because you are working, you can file for a “disability freeze,” that might help you get a higher Social Security disability or retirement benefit in the future. A “freeze” lets you exclude years in which you earned less money because of your visual impairment, when the SSA one day calculates your average lifetime earnings for purposes of retirement or disability benefits.
You might qualify for additional state or federal benefits. Your state regulations might differ from the general law of this article, so it could be a good idea to talk with an elder law attorney near you.
Social Security Administration. “If You’re Blind or Have Low Vision – How We Can Help.” (accessed August 29, 2019) https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10052.pdf