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How does SSA evaluate hearing loss for SSDI purposes?

Two of the most isolating and restricting disabilities a person can have are blindness and deafness. Because of the social nature of human beings, cutting off the visual or auditory communication usually shared with other people can create great challenges for those who happen to have these conditions. Depending on severity, they can certainly affect some people’s ability to perform substantial gainful activity. We have previously discussed the basics of how the Social Security Administration evaluates blindness for the purposes of granting Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income benefits. Today, let’s look at hearing loss.

According to sections 2.10 and 2.11 of the SSA’s ‘blue book,’ there are two basic forms of hearing loss that are evaluated as listings. These are hearing loss treated with a cochlear implant, and that not treated with such a device. For individuals who have a cochlear implant, the SSA will consider them disabled until one year after the device is initially implanted. After that, the administration will reevaluate the individual based upon a specific type of word recognition test. A score showing that the person only recognizes 60 percent or fewer of the words on the test will be enough to meet the listing requirements.

As for those who suffer from hearing loss that has not been treated for a cochlear implant, the process is a little more complicated. For these individuals, the SSA will look to one of two separate tests. First, they will attempt to determine if the person’s hearing threshold is, on average, only 90 decibels or louder through air conduction and 60 decibels or better through bone conduction. Both these requirements refer to the better of the person’s two ears. Second, the listing can be met by a showing of word recognition rate of 40 percent or less on a monosyllabic standardized recognition test.

Many people with hearing loss live productive lives, either through technological and medical interventions, or with the use of alternative communication methods such as sign language and lip reading. However, sometimes conditions can be severe enough that a person does have an inability to work due to his or her lack of auditory acuity. In these cases, physical disability benefits might be available.