According to a recent study by the American Foundation for the Blind, over 20 million adults in the United States live with significant vision loss. Between medical tests, hospital visits, and daily accommodations, it can be difficult for those with vision loss to work and support themselves financially.
If you experience severe vision loss, Social Security may be able to help. The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides monthly financial assistance to those in need.
Medically Qualifying for Disability Benefits
To qualify for Social Security benefits, the SSA must confirm that your disorder is severe enough to warrant monthly disability support. Severe disabilities must either A) be expected to continue for at least 12 months or B) be expected to result in death. To more easily evaluate the severity of an applicant’s diagnoses, the SSA compares an applicant’s disorder to the corresponding entry in the “Blue Book” — the list of approved disabilities.
Vision loss occurs in a variety of ways, so there are multiple ways for applicants to qualify. Below are the three Blue Book listings that cover the different kinds of vision loss:
Section 2.02 – Loss of Central Vision Acuity.
Applicants qualify under this listing if the remaining vision in their better eye, after best correction, is 20/200 or less. This can be tested using a traditional visual acuity test performed by an optometrist or other physician.
Section 2.03 – Contraction of the visual field in the better eye.
Applicants qualify under this listing if it is shown that:
- The widest diameter subtending an angle around the point of fixation is no greater than 20 degrees (i.e. their field of vision is only 20 degrees, compared to a typically sighted person’s 90 degrees);
- They have an MD of 22 decibels or greater, determined by automated static threshold perimetry, measures the central 30 degrees of the visual field (i.e. their field of vision is 30 degrees or less with less-than-normal sensitivity to movement); OR
- They have a visual field efficiency of 20 percent or less, determined by kinetic perimetry.
To check if you qualify, physicians can perform perimetry tests or other visual field efficiency tests to measure your eyesight.
Section 2.04 – Loss of visual efficiency, or visual impairment, in the better eye.
Applicants qualify under this listing if:
- They have a visual efficiency percentage of 20 or less after best correction; OR
- They have a visual impairment value of 1.00 or greater after best correction.
To see if you qualify under these listings, physicians can perform either perimetry tests or visual acuity impairment tests to measure the quality of your eyesight.
If you are unsure if you may qualify for these listings, it is still worth getting testing done or applying to find out. Even without meeting a listing exactly, you may still qualify for disability benefits if you provide medical records, hospitalization history, or physicians’ notes that show you are unable to work or perform daily tasks due to your condition.
Starting the Social Security Application
For those who wish to apply online, applications can be found on the SSA’s website. These applications are compatible with assistive technologies and can be either magnified or read aloud by an automated voice if necessary. FAQs and other important information can also be found here if you have any questions about the application or the process.
If you need help filling out the application or would be more comfortable using other methods, you can call your local Social Security office to have a worker assist you over the phone or to make an appointment to submit the forms in person. You can schedule an appointment with the SSA by calling 1-800-772-1213 (toll-free).
This article was contributed by Disability Benefits Help (disability-benefits-help.org), an independent resource dedicated to helping people in need receive Social Security disability benefits. You can follow Disability Benefits Help on Facebook (facebook.com/disabilitybenefitshelp) and Twitter (@DisabilityGuide).