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How Does a Person's Illiteracy Affect Their Claim for Disability Benefits?

Posted on in Social Security Disability

b2ap3_thumbnail_illiterate_20200213-163419_1.jpgIt may surprise you to learn that roughly one in five American adults struggle with basic literacy. This is according to figures published by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. Specifically, this group representing approximately 20 percent of adults “have difficulty” with completing tasks that involve “comparing and contrasting information, paraphrasing, or making low-level inferences.” Now you may be wondering if illiteracy qualifies a person for Social Security disability benefits. The short answer is no; the mere fact a person has little or no literacy skills is not considered a disability as such. But for applicants between the ages of 45 and 54, Social Security will consider illiteracy as a factor in favor of awarding disability benefits.

Magistrate: Social Security “Failed to Properly Evaluate” Disability Applicant's Illiteracy

Of course, that assumes the applicant can demonstrate they are, in fact, illiterate. Social Security officials often have difficulty taking illiteracy claims at face value. And in some cases, this difficulty crosses the line into simply ignoring the available evidence.

A recent decision from an Illinois federal magistrate judge, Kenneth S. v. Saul, provides a useful illustration of what we are talking about. The plaintiff in this case filed for disability benefits at the age of 47, alleging a number of physical impairments related to his back, neck, shoulder, and hip. The plaintiff informed Social Security he was illiterate, but managed to work as a production laborer at a syrup factory for over 20 years thanks to a “benevolent employer.”

The Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) who reviewed the plaintiff's application did not believe he was illiterate. But the magistrate found that the ALJ “failed to properly evaluate [the plaintiff's] alleged illiteracy.” As a result, the magistrate returned the case to Social Security and the ALJ for a new hearing.

One reason the ALJ disbelieved the plaintiff's illiteracy was the fact he graduated high school. The magistrate said this did not necessarily prove the plaintiff could read or write, as roughly one-quarter of high school graduates were “functionally illiterate” according to the Department of Education. Nor did the fact the plaintiff previously lived alone and was able to perform basic activities like shopping for groceries. Indeed, even the plaintiff's ability to count change did not disprove his claim of illiteracy, as that type of “simple arithmetic” was merely a “prerequisite to literacy.”

The magistrate also emphasized that it was not necessary for the plaintiff to demonstrate that his illiteracy was the result of some intellectual disability or physical injury. That was because a person's education level is merely a “vocational factor” for purposes of assessing a disability application. That is to say, the plaintiff's illiteracy claims are relevant only to the extent they affect his ability to find work.

Speak with an Illinois Disability Benefits Lawyer Today

If someone you love is unable to work and, like the plaintiff in the case above, unable to read or write, they need to seek immediate assistance from a qualified Chicago Social Security disability attorney. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, today at 312-999-0999 to schedule a free consultation.





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