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

Posted on in Social Security Disability

IL disability lawyerStrictly speaking, illiteracy is not a disability according to Social Security regulations. In other words, just because a person is unable to read or write, that does not necessarily mean they are incapable of working. But when a person suffers from one or more medical conditions that restrict their ability to work, illiteracy is a factor that Social Security needs to consider when assessing that person's “vocational profile,” i.e., the types of jobs, if any, they can perform despite their impairments.

Magistrate: Using Social Media Does Not Prove You Are Literate

A recent decision from a federal magistrate here in Illinois, Rodney C. v. Saul, illustrates how Social Security is supposed to account for a disability applicant's illiteracy.

The plaintiff in this case applies for disability benefits, citing his degenerative disc disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, and other impairments. After conducting a hearing, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) determined the applicant did not meet the legal standard for disability. After Social Security upheld the ALJ's ruling, the plaintiff sought judicial review with the magistrate.

The magistrate held the plaintiff was entitled to a new hearing. The magistrate's decision was based on her finding that the ALJ failed to properly consider the plaintiff's claims of illiteracy. At the hearing, the plaintiff said he could “read at a 2nd grade level.” But the ALJ noted the plaintiff somehow managed to complete the 11th grade and could “grocery shop, pay bills, and visit social networking sites on the internet.” Based on this, the ALJ believed the plaintiff was not illiterate, although he had a “limited education.”

The magistrate pointed out that neither the completion of a particular grade level nor the ability to hold down work in the past–as the plaintiff here had done–“decisively foreclose a finding of illiteracy.” And given the plaintiff's claim, the burden was on the ALJ to “build a logical bridge between the record and the ALJ's conclusion” on this issue. The magistrate found the ALJ failed to do this.

For instance, the magistrate said the ALJ assumed that a person with a second-grade reading level could “write simple instructions and inventory lists,” such as those that might be required in a workplace. But the magistrate said she was “not sure how the ALJ came to that conclusion.”

Nor did the magistrate accept the ALJ's assumption that the plaintiff must be literate because he uses social media. “Anyone who has been on Facebook or Instagram knows that most of the content on social media consists of photographs and videos, not necessarily text,” the magistrate noted. So if the plaintiff is illiterate, he could still “use social media to scroll through images and videos.”

Contact an Illinois Social Security Disability Attorney Today

If you have a family member who is both unable to work and unable to read, it is important that they seek out competent legal advice from an experienced Chicago disability benefits lawyer. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 today to schedule a free consultation.




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