Blindness affects more than 1 million Americans over the age of 40, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The condition can introduce significant medical expenses and markedly restrict a person’s abilities. Many people who suffer from legal blindness in Chicago may struggle to work gainfully to support themselves. These individuals may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits and special exemptions to certain Social Security Administration rules
Qualifying for benefits
The Social Security Administration considers a person legally blind if vision in the person’s stronger eye meets one of two criteria after best correction. The visual field must be contracted to an angle of 20 degrees or less, or central visual acuity must be less than 20/200. People who are legally blind may qualify for benefits without further medical consideration. However, these individuals must have adequate earnings records, and they cannot engage in work the SSA considers gainful.
Vision disorders that are less severe may still qualify for SSD benefits. However, these disorders do not meet the definition of blindness, and they are held to stricter evidentiary standards. The SSA requires an eye examination, along with documentation of the cause of any loss of visual field or visual acuity. Individuals who suffer from these vision disorders may need to prepare their claims with the help of Chicago injury attorneys who are familiar with the SSA’s standards for vision impairments.
Generally, the SSA does not award benefits to people who are engaging in “substantial gainful activity.” In 2014, work with income over $1,070 is considered SGA. However, the SSA makes an exception for individuals who are legally blind. These individuals may earn up to $1,800 per month and still qualify for benefits. If a blind individual is self-employed, the SSA evaluates his or her eligibility for benefits based on earnings, rather than hours worked.
Protecting future benefits
The SSA also gives blind individuals who are currently working the right to request a “disability freeze.” During a freeze, the SSA discounts earnings from any lower-income work that an individual performs while disabled. To qualify for a freeze, an individual must meet the following criteria:
- The individual’s condition must meet the definition of legal blindness.
- The individual must not currently collect disability benefits.
- The individual must earn less than he or she did in the past, and this change in income must be due to the limitations associated with the vision disorder.
People who are legally blind and do not currently qualify for SSD benefits because of their earnings may benefit from filing for a disability freeze. Excluding the lower earnings associated with working while disabled can raise an individual’s average earnings and future benefit amounts.