Have you been diagnosed with vision loss? If you’re unable to work due to deteriorating vision, you might be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. Thousands of people who are blind are eligible for Social Security disability benefits; in fact, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is especially lenient when it comes to working with vision loss and receiving disability benefits.
The SSA uses its own guide of qualifying criteria, known colloquially as the “Blue Book,” to determine if applicants are eligible for disability benefits. There are three different listings for vision loss in the Blue Book:
Section 2.02—Loss of Central Visual Acuity
This listing is straightforward. If your eyesight is worse than 20/200 after “best correction,” (glasses, contacts, or surgery), you will qualify. It’s important to note that your eyesight must be 20/200 with glasses, not without. If you’re able to wear glasses or contacts and correct your vision, you will not qualify for disability benefits.
Section 2.03—Contraction of the Visual Field in the Better Eye
Under this listing, there are two ways to qualify. Both will require eye exams by an optometrist:
• You cannot see more than 20 degrees to the left or the right of a fixed point, OR
• You have an MD of 22 decibels or greater, determined by automated static threshold perimetry that measures the central 30 degrees of the visual field
Section 2.04—Loss of Visual Efficiency or Visual Impairment
Again, there are two ways to qualify under this listing:
• You have a visual efficiency percentage of 20 or less after best correction (lenses, contacts, surgery)
• You have a visual impairment value of 1.00 or greater after best correction
The entire Blue Book is available online, so you can review the listings with your doctor to determine if you’re eligible. Your optometrist can help you calculate your MD score, your visual efficiency percentage, or your visual impairment value.
Every Blue Book listing states that your visual impairment must meet its qualification criteria in your best eye. This means that you will not qualify if you are blind in one eye but have good vision in another.
Starting Your Application
The easiest way to apply is online on the SSA’s website. You can ask a loved one to apply on your behalf if you’re unable to type for extended periods of time. If you’d prefer you can also apply for disability benefits in person at your closest Social Security office. You can schedule an appointment by calling the SSA toll-free at 1-800-772-1213. Most claims are approved within three to five months.
Working While on Disability Benefits
The SSA has high income limits for people who are blind who receive disability benefits. If you are approved, you can earn up to $1,970 per month before taxes. If you’re able to keep part-time work, you can supplement your income with Social Security disability benefits.
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