Hearing Loss: When Does Social Security Award Disability?

Social Security grants disability for profound hearing loss in both ears.

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Social Security disability benefits are available for profound hearing loss or deafness, but not for moderate or mild hearing loss. The Social Security Administration (SSA) details how significant your hearing loss must be to qualify for SSDI or SSI disability benefits.

Disability Listing for Hearing Loss

The SSA's impairment listing states the requirements for automatically being granted disability benefits for hearing loss. To qualify for disability benefits for hearing loss (without cochlear implants), you must meet either one of the two following tests.

Audiometry. Your average hearing threshold sensitivity for air conduction must be 90 decibels (dB) or worse in your better ear, and you must have a bone conduction hearing threshold of 60 decibels (dB) or worse in your better ear. Your hearing loss needs to be calculated by averaging your hearing at the sound frequencies of 500 hertz (Hz), 1,000 Hz, and 2,000 Hz.

OR

Word recognition test. You must not be able to repeat more than 40% of a list of standardized words spoken in a word recognition test (which tests speech discrimination).

Pure tone, bone conduction, and word recognition tests must be completed by an otolaryngologist (ENT), a licensed physician, or an audiologist working under the supervision of an ENT or physician. All testing is done without your hearing aids in. The SSA can also send you to an audiologist for auditory evoked response testing (which measures brainwave responses to tones) to determine if your hearing is truly as bad as your pure tone audiometry tests indicate.

Cochlear Implants

If you have cochlear implants in one or both ears, you are automatically granted disability benefits for one year after the implantation (whether or not your hearing improves within 12 months). After one year, your disability benefits will be extended for as long as your word recognition on a "Hearing in Noise Test" (HINT) is 60% or less.

Hearing Loss Affecting Your Functional Capacity

If your hearing loss does not meet the SSA’s disability listing for profound hearing loss, above, you still might be able to get disability if you can show that there are no jobs you can do with your amount of hearing loss.

The SSA will consider how your hearing loss affects your capacity to communicate, follow instructions, and do various jobs. It will then assign you an "RFC," which stands for residual functional capacity, a type of rating of the type of work you can do. In your RFC, the SSA will include restrictions related to your hearing loss on the work you can do.

For instance, if your average hearing threshold sensitivity is 70 dB is your better ear, you can't do work that requires good hearing and good word recognition. This would rule out work requiring communicating with the public or over the telephone or radio, or jobs that require the operation of hazardous machinery. However, the SSA could probably find other jobs you could do where hearing isn’t important. But if you don't have the job skills or education to do those jobs, you might be able to get disability benefits based on a "medical-vocational allowance." This is especially likely if you are older than 55.

Learn more about getting disability through a medical-vocational allowance.

by: , J.D.

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