Can I Get Disability for Poor Eyesight?

To qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you need to have poor eyesight in both eyes, even while wearing glasses or contacts.

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Question: Can I Get Disability for Having 20/800 Vision?

I'm 23 years old and I've had to go through the Lions Club to get glasses since the second grade. My vision has progressively gotten worse over the years and the last time I asked my doctor what my eyesight was, his response was 20/800. I've heard I'm considered partially blind. Would I qualify for disability? How would I go about filling out the paperwork?

Answer: Disability Depends on Your Eyesight With Glasses

A score of 20/800 on the Snellen eyesight chart is very poor. But I'm guessing that, when your doctor told you had 20/800 vision, he was talking about your vision without glasses. To the Social Security Administration (SSA), it really doesn't matter what your vision is without glasses (or contacts). For disability purposes, what matters is what your vision is while wearing glasses. Here's why: You could have 20/800 vision without glasses (which is very low vision), but 20/40 vision with glasses. You would not have a disability.

The real question is, what is your vision while wearing glasses or contacts? If your eyesight, in both eyes, is 20/800 while wearing glasses or contacts (with a proper prescription), you would be automatically considered legally blind and could be eligible for Social Security disability (depending on whether you worked and paid Social Security taxes) or Supplemental Security Income (depending on your income). In fact, if your eyesight 20/200 or worse while wearing glasses, you qualify as legally blind and Social Security considers you disabled. 20/200 vision is far from total blindness, which is when there is no light perception in both eyes.

But note that Social Security assesses vision problems by looking at your vision in your better (stronger) eye. If the vision in your better eye is worse than 20/200 with glasses, you are considered disabled. But if one eye has 20/800 vision and the other eye has 20/100 vision, for example, you would not automatically qualify for disability benefits.

You can apply for benefits by going online to www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability (for SSDI) or www.ssa.gov/ssi (for SSI). Or you can apply for Social Security disability in person at your local SSA office by calling Social Security at 800-772-1213 to set up an appointment. (If you're hard of hearing, you can call the TTY number at 800-325-0778.

For more information, see our article on disability benefits for partial or total blindness.

Question: Disability Benefits for Loss of Sight in One Eye?

If I lose eyesight in one eye, would that qualify me for disability? I have recently lost vision because of an eye infection, and the doctor thinks it may be permanent.

Answer: Disability Requires Poor Eyesight in Both Eyes

You would not automatically qualify for disability if you only lose vision in one eye. Social Security's listing for blindness requires you to have worse than 20/200 vision in your better eye. So as long as you have reasonably good vision in one of your eyes, you won't automatically qualify under the listing for blindness.

Losing eyesight in one eye, however, could prevent you from doing your past job if it was work that required binocular vision or depth perception, such as operating hazardous machinery, working at "unprotected heights," or even driving. In that case, you might be able to get disability benefits through a medical-vocational allowance for reduced vision, based on what you can and can't do.

During the application process, you'll submit a function report where you can detail how your limited vision makes it unsafe or impossible to do your prior work. The SSA will review it, along with treatment notes from your doctor, to determine what your visual limitations are. If the SSA agrees you can't do your past work because of your poor eyesight, the agency will name other work that you can do despite your limitations.

But it's easier to get a medical-vocational allowance if you are older: If you are older than 50, 55, or 60, in some cases Social Security's grid rules require Social Security to automatically find you disabled if the agency agrees you can't do your past job because of limitations.

You may want to consult with a disability attorney or advocate about getting disability benefits based on a medical-vocational allowance for eyesight problems, because SSDI and SSI benefits aren't easy to get for vision problems that don't meet the standard for statutory blindness. Especially if you're initially denied benefits, it makes sense to hire an attorney with experience with partial blindness cases.

Updated September 13, 2022

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