Qualifying for Social Security Disability Benefits with Vision Loss

by Deanna Power

(Editor’s Note: Deanna Power is the director of outreach for Disability Benefits Help, www.disability-benefits-help.org. If you have any questions, send email to help@disability-benefits-help.org.)
According to a recent study by the American Foundation for the Blind, more than 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 Social Security Administration must make sure 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 diagnosis, 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 for using a traditional visual acuity test 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:
a)      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);
b)      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
c)      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:
a)      they have a visual efficiency percentage of 20 or less after best correction, or
b)      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 tests to measure the quality of your eyesight.
If you are unsure whether you qualify for these listings, it is still worth getting testing done or applying to see. Even without meeting a listing exactly, you may still qualify for disability benefits by providing 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
To apply online, go to https://www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability/.
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, contact your local Social Security office to either have a worker assist you over the phone or make an appointment to submit the forms in person. To find your local office, visit www.disability-benefits-help.org/social-security-disability-locations. You can schedule an appointment with the SSA by calling toll-free, 1-800-772-1213.