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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.”


Chicago Social Security Disability LawyersSocial Security Disability cases often turn on agency officials’ subjective views of the applicant’s “credibility.” This is a particular issue when the applicant’s inability to work is due to chronic pain. Put bluntly, Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) have a history of disregarding complaints of pain as faking or exaggeration on the part of the applicant.

Social Security Chided Again for Equating Life Activities With Employment

The law, however, at least as it is supposed to be applied in Illinois, is that Social Security cannot simply ignore an applicant’s testimony regarding their pain. Nor can Social Security point to evidence the applicant is capable of performing daily “life activities” as conclusive proof that he or she can hold down a physically demanding full-time job.


Chicago disability benefits attorneySocial Security Disability insurance benefits are not necessarily permanent. Social Security may review and revoke disability benefits if it later determines that an individual is capable of working. This does not necessarily mean the individual no longer suffers from a disability, only that Social Security now has reason to believe that he or she can hold down a meaningful job in some capacity.

Court Upholds Decision to End Benefits for Illinois Man With Learning Disability

In one recent case, the Chicago-based U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Social Security’s decision to terminate the disability benefits the plaintiff—a man in his late 40s who suffers from a severe learning disability. Social Security initially determined the plaintiff was disabled and unable to work in 1993. But in 2004, the agency reviewed the man’s case and determined “his disability had ended.”


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