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How is blindness defined for the purposes of physical disability?

As we have touched on in the past, there are two different programs administered by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) that are intended to benefit those who are disabled. One is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and the other is Supplemental Security Income (SSI). While there are different criteria for each of these, there is one area of overlap: blindness. A person who is unable to work due to this physical disability might be eligible for either SSDI or SSI. But how does the government define blindness for these purposes?

Section 2.00 of the SSA’s ‘blue book’ contains the definitions that the agency would look to in cases of an applicant who claims to be blind, referring to the relevant areas of the Social Security Act. Since blindness is defined in this statute, the SSA refers to those fitting the definitions as being ‘statutorily blind.’ Meeting these definitions may make one eligible for benefits under either the SSDI or SSI program.

There are two basic definitions that might lead to a finding of ‘statutory’ blindness by the SSA. First is a threshold of central visual acuity, which is usually expressed as a fraction with the numerator always being 20; e.g. 20/20 vision. The Social Security Act defines blindness as having a visual acuity of 20/200 or worse in the eye with better vision, even with the use of corrective lenses. There is also a test of visual field limitation, which is usually expressed as an angle. The statute defines blindness under this criteria as being able to see an in an arc of only 20 degrees or less.

Vision tests are generally fairly easy to take, inexpensive and minimally invasive. It should be noted also that even if an applicant doesn’t meet the definition of ‘statutory’ blindness, he or she may still qualify for disability benefits due to visual impairment based on other criteria in the blue book. Anyone who has the inability to work due to blindness or another physical disability may wish to consider contacting an experienced Ohio disability attorney.

Source: SSA.gov, “Disability evaluation under Social Security,” accessed Aug. 3, 2015