Can I Get Disability for Poor Eyesight?

To qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you generally need to have poor eyesight while wearing glasses or contacts. And wearing glasses isn't considered a disability on its own.

Updated by , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco
Updated 3/07/2024

Here are three answers to readers' questions that will help you understand how the Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates various types of vision problems. For a full overview of how Social Security evaluates vision loss, see our article on Social Security disability and partial or total blindness.

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. What prescription is legally blind?

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 insurance (depending on whether you worked and paid Social Security taxes) or Supplemental Security Income (depending on your income).

In fact, if your eyesight is no better than 20/200 while wearing glasses, you qualify as legally blind and Social Security considers you disabled. And 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.

Question: Can I Get Disability Benefits for Low Vision?

I was born with very low vision in my right eye due to myelinated retinal nerve fibers (MRNF) of the optic nerve. My visual acuity is 20/400 without glasses and 20/200 with glasses. I get double vision and blurred vision from time to time and have strabismus. Can I get disability benefits for bad vision?

Answer: Disability Can Depend on Your Functional Limitations

"Low vision" is a visual impairment that's often seen on Social Security disability and SSI disability applications. Low vision, also called partial sight or limited sight, is an impaired level of visual functioning that can't be completely corrected by wearing conventional glasses or contacts or by having eye surgery.

Low vision can be congenital, resulting from problems with the optic nerve, or can result from glaucoma or macular degeneration, which affects nearly two million Americans who are older than the age of 40.

How does the Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluate low vision? Social Security doesn't have a disability listing specifically for low vision, but the agency does have several listings for vision loss or blindness. The listings cover loss of central visual acuity and loss of peripheral vision. The listings, however, require low vision in both eyes.

For example, if the vision in both of your eyes is 20/200 or worse—with glasses—you'll be considered legally blind and will qualify for disability benefits. But if the vision in your left eye is better than 20/200, you won't automatically qualify for disability benefits through the vision loss listing.

Listings aren't the only way to qualify for disability benefits, however. If you have problems with your vision that cause you to be limited in certain activities, or you have doctor restrictions based on your low vision, you might be able to qualify for disability benefits based on a "medical-vocational allowance." Social Security will first review your work history to see if you can still perform the duties of your past jobs despite your vision loss.

For instance, you mentioned blurred vision and double vision. If you can't do fine detail close-up work because of blurred or double vision on some days, that could keep you from doing your past job (depending on what it was). If your strabismus (misalignment of the eyes) affects your peripheral vision, you might not be able to do certain jobs. If you have amblyopia (reduced vision in one eye), you might have a lack of depth perception, which could rule out a few more jobs. If your doctor has advised you not to drive or work on hazardous machinery, that rules out even more jobs.

Depending on your age, education, and skill set, being unable to do your past job might be enough for you to qualify for disability under the medical-vocational grid rules, especially if you're older than 55. If you're younger than that, you would have to show that, not only can't you do your past work, but there are no other jobs you can do.

Question: Is Wearing Glasses a Disability?

I was diagnosed with myopia and astigmatism at the age of 6 my nearsightedness kept getting worse until I turned 20. I've worn "coke bottle glasses" my whole life. I now have "high myopia" of -8.00D, which is pretty bad eyesight. Does having to wear glasses all the time count as a disability?

Answer: Needing Glasses Doesn't Count as a Disability

For Social Security purposes, wearing glasses alone doesn't count as a disability. Having glasses means that you're visually impaired, but it doesn't mean you're unable to work—assuming your glasses are intended to fully correct your vision.

Now, if you have a very strong prescription for your lenses that isn't fully able to correct your vision—to be at least better than 20/200—or you have other visual problems in addition to nearsightedness like a lack of peripheral vision, you might qualify for disability benefits. But wearing high-prescription glasses or contact lenses alone isn't considered a disability.

In addition, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), wearing glasses doesn't normally count as a disability because using "ordinary lenses" doesn't result in a "substantial limitation to a major life activity." Someone who wears glasses or contacts that can fully correct their vision (or "eliminate refractive error") isn't covered under the ADA. (29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j).)

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