A Chicago Disability attorney can offer guidance

More than 3.6 million Americans over age 40 are visually impaired, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Over 1 million people in the same age group are legally blind. These individuals may face significant expenses and difficulty working, as any Chicago disability attorney knows. Fortunately, Social Security Disability benefits may be available to people with statutory blindness or even low vision.

Disability evaluation

People with visual impairments can medically qualify for SSD benefits automatically if they meet one of three criteria provided in the “Blue Book” of impairment listings. The criteria apply to the stronger eye after best correction and are as follows:

  • Vision is 20/200 or worse. This level of visual impairment constitutes statutory or legal blindness.
  • Visual field is contracted to an angle of less than 20 degrees. This degree of impairment also qualifies as statutory blindness.
  • Visual efficiency is less than 20 percent, or the visual impairment value is greater than 1.00.

The Blue Book specifies appropriate medical tests applicants can use to prove they meet one criterion.

People who do not meet any of these criteria may still receive SSD benefits for vision problems. The Social Security Administration grants medical-vocational allowances to people who cannot reasonably perform gainful work due to their disabling conditions. The SSA may consider factors besides medical condition, such as transferrable job skills, to determine whether an individual qualifies for a medical-vocational allowance.

Special rules

People who are considered legally blind qualify for various special work incentive programs. The SSA allows blind individuals to earn up to $1,800 in monthly income without losing eligibility for benefits. Self-employed blind individuals can work an unlimited number of hours for their businesses without losing benefit eligibility.

Blind individuals who are currently working can also request a disability “freeze.”  When calculating future benefits, the SSA will not factor in the income the individual earns while working in a limited capacity due to his or her disability. This exclusion allows the individual to collect a higher benefit amount.

Blind individuals who are older than 55 and attempt to return to work are protected against benefit termination. If these individuals exceed the monthly income limit of $1,800, the SSA only suspends benefits. If an individual’s income later falls below the same threshold, his or her SSD benefits resume.

These specialized programs are only available to people with statutory blindness. Therefore, it is essential for legally blind individuals seeking SSD benefits to provide proper documentation and establish that the condition qualifies as statutory blindness.