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Can I get disability benefits if I cannot speak English?

Applying for Social Security disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA) is a challenging process. If your disability does not automatically meet a listing for the SSA’s list of Blue Book conditions, you will usually be evaluated for your eligibility in other ways.

The SSA will perform a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment to determine what types of work you are still able to reasonably perform with your disability. They will also include your age, education level, and other factors that help to decide what types of work you can perform.

Disability Benefits for Non-English Speakers

If you are unable to speak, read, write, or communicate in English, you may be less able to perform certain types of jobs. Your RFC may determine that your disability makes it so that you can only perform sedentary work, such as an office setting or customer service job. If you do not speak English and never went to school, or even if you went to school in your native language, there may be no type of sedentary job that you can perform.

The SSA will approve you for disability benefits based on your inability to speak English if you are 45 years old or older. They will not take your education level into account, as your inability to speak English counteracts your level of education. Your age is taken into account because it may be more difficult for an older person to quickly learn a completely new language to the point where they are able to successfully find a new job, while also dealing with the other effects of their original medical disability.

Non-English Speaker Examples

A 55-year-old non-English speaking man who has only worked on construction sites is diagnosed with a degenerative spinal condition. The man does not qualify for disability benefits through the SSA’s Blue Book for his spine condition, and his RFC assessment determines that he may be eligible to work a sedentary job. As the person cannot communicate or read and write in English, the SSA finds that he can’t be expected to qualify for any sedentary job and approves his disability benefits application.

In another example, a 30-year-old woman who doesn’t speak English and works as a landscaper is diagnosed with a skin condition that makes it unsafe for her to be outside and in the sun for extended periods of time. The SSA gives the woman an RFC assessment and finds that she is still eligible to perform sedentary labor. Since both the woman’s age and inability to speak English are taken into account, her disability benefits claim is denied, as she is 30 and is expected to reasonably be able to learn English and find a new job.

It is important to note that being unable to communicate in English is not a disability in itself. It is only a factor that may increase your odds of approval for disability benefits if you are disabled and unable to work due to a certain medical condition.