For Social Security disability purposes, you are considered blind if your vision cannot be corrected to better than 20/200 in your better eye or if your visual field is 20 degrees or less in your better eye. To be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, your blindness must meet the above criteria for at least 12 consecutive months; for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, the duration requirement does not apply.
Social Security Administration (SSA) will require you to undergo an examination by an ophthalmologist or optometrist to measure your central visual acuity, which is your ability to see clearly straight ahead. You will also be examined if your blindness is due to issues with your visual field efficiency (peripheral vision).
You may still qualify for benefits even if you do not meet SSA’s definition of blindness. However, your vision problems must be combined with other health conditions which together make it impossible for you to work. If you are partially blind, know that SSA will look closer at your work history, everyday functional abilities, job qualifications, and your medical records before determining whether you qualify for benefits.
In order to qualify for SSDI benefits, you must have enough work credits for the years you earned income and paid into Social Security. If you are blind but still able to work, you can continue to earn credits any time during your working years. This way, these credits can be used to qualify you for SSDI benefits even if you do not have enough work credits to be eligible for benefits at the time you became blind.
If you cannot work and do not have enough work credits to collect SSDI benefits on your own earnings, you may be able to qualify for benefits on the earnings record of your spouse or one of your parents.
If you are still working, but your wages have been reduced because of your blindness, SSA can apply a disability freeze to your work record. Your Social Security retirement/disability benefits are based on the average of your lifetime earnings. Your monthly benefits will be lower if SSA counts lower-earnings years in that average. Putting a disability freeze on your record allows SSA to exclude those years from the average when calculating your benefits.
You can choose to continue working and still receive SSDI benefits for your blindness as long as your earnings do not exceed the threshold set for substantial gainful activity (SGA) in any given year. In 2021, the SGA amount is $2,190 per month. You will remain eligible to collect disability benefits as long as you earn less than that every month, which is higher than the threshold for non-blind disabled workers.
SSA applies different determination rules if you are blind and age 55 or older. If you fall into that category, even if your earnings exceed $2,190 per month, your benefits will be suspended rather than terminated, as long as the work you are currently doing requires a lower level of skill and ability than the work you did before you turned 55. SSA will continue to pay disability benefits for each month your earnings remain below the SGA limit.