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Education, Language Abilities Can Affect Disability Claims

Posted on in Social Security Disability Medical Conditions

language, educational abilities, Chicago Social Security Disability attorneyIn considering an application for Social Security Disability insurance benefits, government officials must not only look at a person's medical disabilities, but also his or her educational background. This is because as a person gets older, it is presumably more difficult for an impaired person to find a job. Therefore, depending on an applicant's age, limited education or literacy may contribute to a finding of disability.

Social Security regulations set forth several standards for evaluating a disability applicant's education. Social Security officials must inquire an applicant about his or her education, including how long he or she attended school, if he or she can read or write, and if he or she can perform basic arithmetic. For example, a person is deemed to have a “marginal education” if he or she has formal schooling or demonstrates learning at the sixth grade or lower level.

Social Security Fails to Consider Construction Worker's English Illiteracy

Another key consideration is whether an applicant has the ability to communicate in the English language. “Because English is the dominant language of the country,” Social Security regulations state, “it may be difficult for someone who doesn't speak and understand English to do a job, regardless of the amount of education the person may have in another language.” So while English illiteracy does not automatically require a finding of disability, Social Security must consider it when assessing an applicant's potential for obtaining certain types of work.

For example, in a recent case, a federal magistrate in Illinois reversed the Social Security Administration's (SSA) denial of a disability claim, in part because the agency failed to properly assess and consider the applicant's English literacy. The applicant was a native of Mexico with a sixth-grade education who worked as a construction laborer. In 2007, the applicant sustained serious injuries after falling from a ladder. Following two surgeries, the applicant filed a claim for disability benefits, which an SSA administrative law judge (ALJ) denied.

On appeal, the magistrate determined the ALJ's denial “was not supported by substantial evidence.” The principal problem, according to the magistrate, was the ALJ afforded insufficient weight to the expert testimony of the applicant's treating physician regarding his ability to perform manual labor. But a secondary issue was the ALJ's finding the applicant “has the ability to communicate in English.” The magistrate said the evidence did not necessarily support this conclusion. Indeed, the ALJ's own decision noted the applicant “does not read or write in English,” which directly contradicted her conclusion. The ALJ also failed to account for the fact the applicant relied on an interpreter during the hearing. Finally, the applicant's history as a construction worker “is not inconsistent with his claim of English illiteracy.”

Get Help from a Disability Lawyer

Again, it is important to understand the inability to speak English is not, by itself, a disability. But it is a factor Social Security must consider when assessing an applicant's entire case. That is why it is important to work with an experienced Chicago Social Security disability attorney when dealing with the SSA. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, today if you need help with a disability application or appeal.




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