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Blindness and Social Security Income: What you should know

While there are many disabling conditions that qualify applicants for Social Security Disability benefits or Supplemental Security Income, blindness is treated somewhat differently.

This is what you should know:

1. The majority of people who file for benefits due to blindness became blind as an adult due to one of several reasons:

  • Cataracts that, for whatever reason, are not able to be treated with artificial lenses
  • Macular degeneration, which destroys the central vision of the affected eyes and is still a common disorder in adults aged 60 and above
  • Glaucoma, which destroys the delicate optic nerve through fluid pressure and is a major cause of blindness in both Hispanics and African Americans
  • Diabetic retinopathy, which is generally a long-term complication of uncontrolled diabetes and afflicts up to half of all diabetics to some degree
  • Accidents -- most of which occur in industrial or construction settings and may also involve disfigurement

It's important that you discuss the reason for your low vision or blindness with the claims representative when you file because there may be additional disabling factors related to your condition that should be listed on your application for benefits.

2. The definition of legal blindness, for both SSD and SSI is very limited:

  • Your visual field (the space you can see in) is 20 degrees or smaller
  • You have 20/200 vision or worse, even with corrective lenses

Qualifying for benefits based on blindness does offer you benefits not available to other beneficiaries. For example, if you are able to work while on disability, you are allowed to earn more money in a month than a non-blind beneficiary and keep your benefits.

3. You can qualify for disability benefits due to low vision and your other medical disorders even if you aren't legally blind.

That's why it is important to discuss the source of your blindness with the claims examiner -- and to mention any other disabling conditions you have. For example, low vision combined with depression and diabetes and diabetic nerve pain may still entitle you to benefits.

For help getting a Social Security claim approved once you've been denied, a legal advocate will be you best ally.

Source: SSA, "Blindness and low vision - claiming SSI," accessed Sep. 29, 2017

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