Can I Qualify for Disability with Vision Loss? (Updated for 2023)

Many people wonder is blindness a disability? If your vision is 20/200, or legally blind, you may qualify for disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers “legal” or “statutory” blindness as a qualified disability. 

Legally blind individuals include people who have been blind since birth in addition to those that have experienced severe vision loss due to conditions. These conditions that may qualify for disability benefits due to vision loss include glaucoma, retinopathy, and traumatic injury, among others.

In fact, the blind can qualify for disability and still continue to work while receiving monthly benefits, provided they meet all SSA requirements. 

What Does Legally Blind Mean 

Someone that is legally blind may have limited vision and still be considered legally blind. The legal definition of blindness is a person who has a corrected vision of 20/200 or less in their better eye. That means that, even with glasses or contacts, the best they can see is 20/200 or less. Legally blind doesn’t mean totally blind, it just means having extremely impaired vision.  

Anyone that is legally blind can qualify for disability benefits. In order to have your application for disability benefits approved because of your blindness, you must submit both medical records as well as vision tests with your application that show you meet one of these requirements: 

   Loss of central visual acuity (2.02) – This listing requires you see no better than 20/200 in your better eye. 

   Contraction of the visual field in the better eye (2.03) – To qualify through this listing you must have a shrinking field of vision. Your field of vision must have a diameter that is no larger than 20-30 degrees.

   Loss of visual efficiency, or visual impairment (2.04) – this listing is for legal blindness. To qualify through this listing, you must show that you have vision of 20/200 in your better eye with the use of glasses or contacts. 

If you have vision loss, you can get disability.

Submitting medical records and vision tests is essential to proving that you meet the Social Security Administration’s requirements in order to qualify for disability benefits. 

In fact, it is one of, if not, the most important signs your disability claim will be approved. You could also submit a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form which is completed by your doctor to explain what your vision is like and how your vision problems make you disabled and unable to work so that the SSA can better understand the disabling nature of your vision loss.

Is Being Legally Blind a Disability?

 Being legally blind is considered a disability by the Social Security Administration (SSA). You can get disability benefits if you are legally blind if you meet the rules outlined by the SSA for either SSDI or SSI benefits.

 In order to get disability for being legally blind, you need meet the medical criteria outlined by the SSA in their listing for vision loss in their medical guide for conditions that qualify for disability benefits. 

Even if you don’t meet the medical criteria in the SSA’s medical guide, you can still get disability for being legally blind if you are able to show and prove to the SSA that your blindness and the complications of it prevents you from working. 

If you are able to do that, the SSA will consider you being legally blind a disability and you will be able to earn disability benefits. Take our free disability evaluation to see if you qualify for disability.

The SSA Awards Vision Loss Differently Than Other Non-Vision Loss Related Disabilities

Those receiving disability benefits for vision loss have some different financial limits than those receiving benefits for other reasons. Claimants are blind can earn more than disabled workers who aren’t blind and keep their disability benefits.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a set earnings amount that is called substantial gainful activity (SGA). As of 2023, that is $1,470 per month for those who are disabled but aren’t blind. For those who are blind, the SGA limit is $2,460 per month. Use our disability calculator to see how much you could be able to earn in disability benefits.

That means that after you have completed your trial work period, you can earn as much as the SGA and not lose your monthly disability benefits. The earnings limit usually changes from one year to the next and those figures are based on the cost of living and inflation. 

If you have vision loss, you can get disability.

If someone who is blind receives disability benefits and he or she is self-employed, the time spent working in his or her business isn’t evaluated the same as it is for those who do not have vision loss.

Those who aren’t blind cannot work more than 45 hours per month for their business in most cases and still receive disability benefits.

 A blind individual can work more and put in more hours for his or her business and still receive disability benefits just so long as his or her net profit averages the SGA or less. So, as an example, you can work 80 hours per month while you are blind, but if your net profit doesn’t exceed $2,460 per month, you will continue receiving disability benefits.

How Much Disability Do You Get If You Are Legally Blind?

Those who are blind can receive up to $2,460 per month in 2023 from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The amount for blind disabled workers for SSDI is much higher than non-blind workers. Non-blind disabled workers can earn up to $1,470 per month.

What Eye Problems Qualify for Disability?

Some eye problems that qualify for disability include legal blindness, partial sight, glaucoma, macular degeneration, ocular melanoma and Sjögren’s Syndrome

Each one of those eye problems are found in the SSA’s Blue Book, which are the list of medical conditions that the SSA considers a disability that can qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

In order to qualify for disability with an eye problem, you will need to meet the criteria set by the SSA with that condition. For example, to meet the criteria for being legally blind, your vision can’t be corrected to better than 20/200 in your better eye or if your visual field is 20 degrees or less in your better eye for a period that lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months.

If you meet the medical criteria outlined by the SSA for the respective Blue Book listing, as well as meet the work requirements for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), the SSA will consider your eye problem as a disability and you will be able to start earning Social Security disability.

The Financial Costs of Vision Loss As A Disability

People born blind usually learn to live and thrive in a world dominated by sighted individuals, but they still experience ongoing “adaptive living” expenses as working adults.

These costs include transportation fees, home modifications, and expensive technologies that allow the blind to live independently and perform essential job duties.

Even the expense of a guide dog may be outside the grasp of a disabled worker. According to the Guide Dog Foundation, the cost of raising and training a single service animal is about $50,000.

If you have vision loss, you can get disability.

While some organizations provide dogs free of charge to the blind, these groups have limited resources and budgets. This means blind workers may wait months or years for a guide animal unless they’re able to afford to pay for training their own.

For people who lose their sight later in life, the costs of blindness include not only adaptive expenses like those mentioned above, but also astronomical medical bills.

Patients and doctors frequently do all they can to retain or improve sight, using surgical procedure, medications, and other treatment methods. Bills add up quickly, particularly for patients that have lost their job and their health insurance along with it.

A decrease in average earnings or total loss of income from work after vision loss is common too, with workers often being unable to continue employment in their traditional field.

A production worker who loses his sight, for example, cannot return to the production floor after a medical leave. Instead, he must learn new skills and eventually find a new job.

Making ends meet in the meantime only adds stress to an already stressful life transition. Disability benefits can provide financial support and access to occupational rehabilitation, in which workers are trained for new professions.

Disability benefits can additionally be an ongoing source of financial support for blind workers, allowing them to continue employment while simultaneously receiving monthly disability payments.

If you cannot work due to vision loss or blindness, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Learn how.

Medically Qualifying for Disability Benefits With Vision Loss through the Blue Book Listing

The SSA maintains standard listings that outline what constitutes disability with various health conditions. These listings appear in a manual that’s call the “Blue Book.”

The Blue Book is accessible online for you and your doctor to consult. Your doctor can help you understand the complex medical language and the SSA’s severity level requirements for qualifying for disability with blindness or vision loss.

SSA disability examiners are the people who review claims for benefits. They use the listing in the Blue Book to compare with your medical records to determine eligibility for benefits.

To qualify for disability benefits, your vision loss or blindness must meet one of the following listings:

  • Loss of central visual acuity (2.02) – this listing covers loss in your central field of vision and requires you see no better than 20/200 in your better eye.
  • Contraction of the visual field in the better eye (2.03) – you can qualify under this listing if you have a shrinking field of vision. Your doctor must measure your vision with specific tests for blindness and must record what you’re able to see when you’re focusing on a fixed point. This listing requires reports of your visual field, which is the distance in all directions from the fixed point on which you’re focused. That diameter must be no greater than 20 to 30 degrees. In others words, your visual field must be very narrow.
  • Loss of visual efficiency, or visual impairment (2.04) – this listing covers issues that cause blurry or unfocused vision or an absence of vision (total blindness). To qualify, you must have vision in your better eye that is no greater than 20/200 when wearing corrective lenses.

Vision Loss As A Disability When Older Than 55

If you are blind and receive disability and you are older than 55, the determination rules that are used by the SSA aren’t the same ones that are used for those who aren’t blind.

If a claimant is older than 55, even if their earnings are in excess of $2,460 per month the benefits are only suspended and not terminated if the work that you do requires a lower level of ability and skill than the work you did before you were approved for disability benefits.

If you are blind, you should familiarize yourself with the different limits for those who are visually impaired and receiving disability benefits. You may be able to earn more than you initially believe and continue receiving disability benefits.

You just need to keep track of your earnings, and maintain thorough records and receipts, so you can properly deduct any work-related expenses if you are self-employed.

Those who are self-employed can deduct business expenses as well as any expenses that they must have because of their disability. These expenses may include prescriptions, medical care, medical devices, and special tools, equipment or software that you need to be able to do the job. As an example, the cost of documents written in braille or special programs that are voice activated so you can send messages and prepare documents.

So, you may earn more than the SGA of $2,460 per month, but after the deductions, you may earn less than the SGA and still qualify for disability benefits. That is why accurate, detailed record keeping is necessity, so you can make sure you continue to receive disability benefits if you are eligible to do so.

Keep all your receipts, so you can provide them to the SSA when you upload your records that show your earnings, work activity, and your associated costs and expenses.

Can You Be Blind in One Eye and Disability Benefits?

Being blind in one eye does not qualify for Social Security disability and is not considered a disability by the SSA.

You could qualify for disability, if you have another severe health ailment with it that prevents you from being able to work full time.

 For example, if you are blind in one eye, you could still get disability if you have diabetes, as diabetes can cause vision loss. If you are unable to work because of being blind in one eye and have diabetes, you still could qualify for disability under the diabetes listing, as the SSA considers diabetes a disability.

The Trial Work Period For Those Who Are Disabled Due To Vision Loss or Blindness

If you are blind and receiving disability benefits, you may want to try to return to work at some point. Every 60 months, disabled workers have a 9-month trial work period.

Those 9 months – which don’t have to be consecutive – allow a disabled individual to determine if he or she is capable of earning a living again. The idea of a trial work period is to allow you and the SSA to determine if your condition has improved enough for you to return to work.

During the trial period, you must report your earnings, work activity, and your expenses to the SSA. During this time, your disability benefits are not in jeopardy.

Even after your 9-month trial work period has expired, you can still receive disability benefits for any month that you do not earn more than the SGA amount of $2,460. If you earn more than the maximum SGA, you will not receive your disability benefits that month.

While you could be successful in your return to work, your medical problems could worsen, and you may have to stop working again. If that happens, within 5 years of returning to the workforce you are eligible for what is called expedited reinstatement.

During that time, you aren’t required to reapply for disability benefits, and you don’t have to wait for review of your medical condition to have your benefits reinstated.

Remember, you only have 9 trial months in any 60-month timeframe, so you don’t want to inadvertently use those months up before you intend to do so. If you return to work and you don’t earn more than the SGA, you will continue receiving your disability benefits.

It is important to keep track of all your expenses and costs associated with your ability to work so that can be deducted before your actual earnings are determined.

Medically Qualifying for Disability through an RFC Analysis For Those Who Are Disabled Due To Vision Loss or Blindness

The SSA reviews blindness or severe vision loss under strict rules of medical eligibility. To prove you’re disabled without meeting a listing means you must show your decreased vision or blindness prevents you from working in any job.

This is done through a “residual functional capacity” analysis or RFC. In an RFC, the SSA looks at your functional limitations, like your inability to drive, read, shop for food, or get around in unfamiliar locations.

These limitations in your everyday life help the SSA understand how you’d be limited in performing specific kinds of job duties.

During an RFC, the SSA also looks at your age, job skills, and education level. As a person with severe vision loss that doesn’t meet a Blue Book listing, you’re more likely to be approved through an RFC analysis under certain circumstances:

  • If you have a medical condition that causes progressive vision loss. While your vision may not meet a disability listing now, the SSA can see from your diagnosis that your vision will continue to worsen, eventually reaching the severity level noted in the Blue Book.
  • If you are older and have a lower level of education or limited transferable job skills.

Qualifying through an RFC means you’re granted a medical vocational allowance. This essentially means the SSA believes you cannot work in any job due to your functional limitations.

How to Apply for Benefits With Vision Loss Or Blindness

You can apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) online via the SSA’s website or you can submit your SSDI application at your local Social Security office

If you apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) however, you must do so through an interview process with an SSA representative and this is usually done at the local office.

No matter how you apply or which program you’re applying for, you will need to have a lot of information readily available, including:

  • Your work history and details of your education and job training
  • Medical records or at least accurate contact information for all your healthcare providers, including your primary care doctor, specialists, and therapists or life skills educators
  • Financial records, including bank statements, paystubs, and information on any other forms of benefits you currently receive

Your medical documentation is essential to proving your disability whether you qualify under a disability listing or through an RFC. Sometimes it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with the signs that you will be approved for disability as well as the signs that you will be denied for disability. It can also be very helpful to look at the Social Security disability approval rates by state

Specific records that the SSA requires for visually impaired and blind applicants may include:

  • Snellen method or similar visual acuity tests: measures how well a patient can see objects based on distance and location in relation to the central field of vision
  • Automated static threshold perimetry or kinetic perimetry exams: document shrinking or contraction of the central field vision over time
  • Humphrey Field Analyzer visual field tests: documents central and peripheral vision when a patient is focused on a fixed point

Your doctor can help you understand whether your medical records meet the SSA’s requirements. He or she can also determine any gaps in your medical documentation and fill in those gaps by completing evaluations according to SSA documentation standards.

 You Could Be Entitled to $3,627 Per Month! Get a Free Disability Evaluation

If you are blind and receive disability benefits, but you are thinking of returning to the workforce and you are interested in using your 9-month trial work period, you should consult with a disability advocate or attorney who handles such cases in your area.

With the help of a disability lawyer, you can determine the best way to proceed and figure out what is best for your specific needs. Schedule a free case review by completing the Free Case Evaluation Form on this page. Claims are often initially denied disability, so working with a lawyer my help increase your chances.  Be sure to look out for the signs that you will be denied for disability.

Additional Resources For Those With A Vision Disability