Tips on Applying for Disability with Partial Blindness

Legal blindness automatically qualifies you for disability benefits, but the Social Security Administration (SSA) does not have such a clear-cut definition of when partially blind applicants are eligible. Use the following tips to improve your chances of receiving an approval for Social Security Disability (SSD).

Make Sure Your Low Vision Meets the SSA’s Guidelines

Only applicants with severe vision impairment in either their visual field or visual acuity are considered qualified for benefits. To be considered legally blind under the SSA’s Blue Book listings, vision tests must show one of the following:

  • 20/200 or lower central visual acuity in your better eye
  • 20 degree or lower visual field diameter in your better eye

With partial blindness, you cannot meet the Blue Book listing, which means your application for benefits must be reviewed differently. The SSA must more thoroughly exam your medical records, work history, job qualifications, and your everyday functional abilities before deciding if you qualify.

  • Within the medical community, low vision is defined as visual acuity or 20/70 or lower in your better eye and must not be correctable with glasses or contacts.
  • For a favorable disability decision though, your vision tests should be 20/100 or lower in your better eye.

Additionally, the SSA requires that your vision tests are performed while you are wearing any prescribed corrective lenses, so you must ensure your doctor has you wear your glasses or contacts when measuring your visual impairment.

Have the Appropriate Test Results Ready before You Apply

To qualify for benefits for visual impairment, you must have the correct tests performed:

  • Visual acuity testing using Snellen methodology, Cycloplegic Refraction, Visual Evoked Response (VER), or a comparable testing method
  • Visual field testing utilizing automated static threshold perimeter measurement tools like size III Goldmann stimulus

Ask your eye doctor to review the SSA’s Blue Book listing requirements for vision exams. Your doctor will understand the tests described and be able to ensure your medical records meet the SSA’s evidence standards.

Confirm that No Method of Vision Correction has been Effective

Only vision issues that cannot be corrected are considered disabling by the SSA. You must be able to show that your partial blindness cannot be “fixed” by wearing corrective lenses. This is why your vision tests must be performed with your contacts or glasses.

Your other medical records, including detailed reports and exam notes completed by your doctor, can provide the other proof necessary for your disability application. Ensure your records are thorough and that the SSA has access to them. Obtain copies of as many of your records as possible and submit these along with your application for benefits at the time that you apply.

See a Specialist, if Possible

Vision tests performed by a general practitioner or optometrist may be the first formal measurements of your vision loss that appear in your medical records. They should be the last though. Your records should include results from tests conducted by a vision specialist or ophthalmologist.

Ophthalmologists are generally the only doctors that perform the full range of vision tests the SSA requires as medical evidence. Greater value is also placed on a specialist’s opinion of whether vision loss is treatable or correctable.

If you are unable to see a specialist, make sure your medical doctor or optometrist reviews the Blue Book listing requirements for medical documentation. The SSA may send you to a specialist to fill in any gaps in your medical records before making a determination on your claim. If this is the case, ensure you keep the appointment. It can make the difference between approval and denial of benefits.

Collect Other Evidence Necessary for Approval Under a Medical Vocational Allowance

If you are not considered legally blind, you will need to provide the SSA with additional documentation. Specifically, the SSA will need:

  • Details of your employment history, job training, and formal education
  • A “residual functional capacity” (RFC) report from your eye doctor, documenting how your visual impairment limits your everyday activities, including your ability to perform typical job functions

If you do not meet a listed disability, the SSA will look at your age, education, employment history, and your medical condition. If, given all of these factors, you cannot work, then you will be approved for benefits under a medical vocational allowance.

Hire an Attorney

Legal blindness claims are usually approved without much hassle. If you are not considered legally blind and need a medical vocational allowance to receive benefits though, your claim will be more complicated. Either way, the application and review processes can be difficult to understand.

Knowing exactly how to proceed and the types of information the SSA needs in order to find you eligible can be confusing. An attorney familiar with cases like yours can guide you through the process and can help you appeal a denial, if you are found ineligible for benefits.

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