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How Does the Social Security Administration Determine If Someone Is Blind?

Posted on in Social Security Disability

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a very structured method of determining whether someone is disabled. SSA will find an individual disabled if he or she meets the five step Social Security disability evaluation process. The five step Social Security disability process includes: (1) Are you performing substantial gainful activity; (2) Is your condition severe; (3) Does your condition meet or exceed a listed impairment; (4) Can you do previous work; and (5) What work can you do? If someone meets all five of the steps of the evaluation process, then that person will be adjudicated as disabled and accordingly receive disability benefits. For someone with low vision or macular degeneration for example, that person would need to meet the five step standard in order to be classified as disabled. However, the Social Security disability program for blind claimants is unique and has somewhat different rules then the regular program.

The rules for being considered blind by SSA are somewhat different from the regular five step process. For SSA to find someone blind, that person would have to meet the medical definition of blindness, durational requirement, be insured, and to not have obtained their loss of vision through certain felony related impairments.

Step One: What does it take to be blind?

An individual has to meet a specific medical definition of blindness. The SSA defines blindness by statute and requires a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with best corrective lens or a field of vision of 20 degrees or less. 20 CFR 404.1581. In other words, if the better of your two eyes has worse vision than 20/200, you will meet the statutory definition of blindness. Unlike regular Social Security disability claims, an individual cannot merely equal the requirement under the third step of the five step evaluation process. The person's vision must be less than 20/200.

Step Two: What is the durational requirement?

Even though your vision in your better eye may be worse than 20/200, you still will not be legally blind if you do not meet the durational requirement. An individual's blindness is expected to last continuously for a 12 month period. Five months of loss of vision will not meet the durational requirement nor will five months of on and off loss of vision. If the individual's better eye is less than 20/200 and has continuously met that requirement for 12 months, then the first two steps have been met.

Step Three: What does it mean to be insured for disability purposes?

The typical disability claimant must have contributed a certain amount of money for a specified time to qualify as insurable for disability purposes. However, blind claimants have no recent work requirement.

Step Four: Is a felony-related loss of vision considered?

SSA will not consider any aggravation of a preexisting impairment arising during the commission of a felony after October 19, 1980, if you are subsequently convicted of the crime. In other words, if you lost your vision do to being poked in the eyes, burned, or any other activity related to your commission of a crime and are subsequently convicted, SSA will invalidate your claim.

If an individual has met these different steps, SSA should find that you are legally blind. It is important to note that even if you do not meet these steps, you can still apply for regular disability benefits through the five step Social Security disability evaluation process.

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