07 February 2013

Guest Post: Guide to Disability Benefits for the Deaf

The following is a guest post brought to you by Molly Clarke of Social Security Disability Help, an organization that helps people apply for government disability benefits. While deaf and hard-of-hearing people can have successful careers in a wide range of fields, employment discrimination and unequal access to higher education (often due to a linguistic gap that can occur when pre-lingually deafened children are not offered bilingual education), has resulted in higher unemployment rates among deaf people, a condition exacerbated by the struggling economy.  
According to the Social Security Administration, those who are deaf or have severe hearing loss meet the definition of "disabled" and are likely eligible to receive government benefits. For more about the debate on deafness as a disability vs. cultural minority, click here.  And thanks, Molly, for giving us the lowdown:

Applying for Disability Benefits for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Social Security Disability benefits are available for individuals who can no longer work due to a disability or illness. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers two different benefit programs—Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). If you are deaf and unable to work, the following article will offer more insight into the benefit options available to you. 

Severity of Hearing Loss and SSDI Eligibility
If you or a loved one is completely deaf or have suffered severe hearing loss,  it is likely that you meet the SSA’s definition of disability. In order to qualify for disability benefits, you must provide sufficient medical evidence that documents your condition and symptoms.

If you are not completely deaf or your hearing loss is less severe, you may still qualify for Social Security Disability benefits under a medical vocational allowance (MVA). As part of a medical vocational allowance, the SSA will evaluate your “residual functional capacity” – your ability to maintain gainful employment given the limitations of your hearing loss. If the RFC evaluation finds that your hearing loss is significant enough to prevent you from working, then you may be granted benefits under an MVA.

The SSA’s Hearing Loss Listing
The SSA’s Blue Book, is a manual of disabling conditions and criteria that applicants must meet in order to be considered disabled. The listing for hearing loss requires medical documentation that proves the following:
  • In word recognition tests you have a speech discrimination rating of 40% or less in your better ear
  • In audiometry tests your hearing threshold is 90 decibels or lower in your better ear
  • In hearing threshold evaluations, you have a bone conduction rating of 60 decibels or lower in your better ear
  • Your hearing loss average was calculated using three specific frequencies: 500, 1,000, and 2,000 hertz.
Concurrent Conditions
If your hearing loss occurs in combination with another medical condition, your application for disability benefits will need to contain medical records for both conditions. If you have less severe hearing loss, but your other condition is more complex, you may possibly qualify for SSDI under the listing for the concurrent condition rather than under the SSA’s listing for severe hearing loss.

SSDI and Cochlear Implants
If you’ve had a cochlear implant for either or both ears, then you’ll automatically qualify for disability benefits for a period of one year following your surgery. It is important to note that you will still need to complete and submit an application for disability benefits as well as the appropriate medical documentation to substantiate your claim.
If your hearing improves within twelve months of your surgery, you will still be eligible to receive SSDI for the entire first year after your surgery was performed. At the expiration of your first year, you will submit to a “continuing disability review” (CDR) to determine if your condition has improved enough for you to return to work.  
If your hearing discrimination tests show that your rating remains at 60% or lower, you will be able to continue receiving disability benefits.

The SSDI Application Process
The first step to initiate your application for disability benefits is to determine if you meet the basic eligibility requirements. These include both medical and technical criteria.
To learn more about the SSA’s definition of disability, click here. To review the technical eligibility requirements for SSD, click here.
Next, you’ll need to fill out and submit your initial application. This can be done online, over the phone, or in person at your local SSA office. To complete your application online, visit http://www.ssa.gov/pgm/disability.htm.
The SSA’s main number for the hearing impaired is 1-800-325-0778. If you decide to apply in person at your local SSA office be sure to call ahead, schedule an appointment, and request arrangements for an interpreter if necessary.

Independent Medical Evaluations
Often, the SSA will require applicants to attend a consultative medical evaluation with a contracted physician. If you receive a notice requiring you to attend a consultative evaluation, do not miss the appointment. Attendance is required and failure to keep the appointment will lead to your claim being dismissed for “failure to cooperate”.

Appealing an SSD Denial
If you are denied disability benefits at the initial application or review stage, this does not mean that you cannot continue to pursue SSD benefits. There are several appeal stages built into the SSA’s processes. 

About the Author: Molly Clarke is a writer for the Social Security Disability Help Blog, where she works to promote disability awareness and helps individuals navigate the Social Security Disability application process. To see more of her blog, click here. ____________________________________________________________________________
Got something to say? Email us at info@redeafined.com with your idea for a guest post!


  1. I've heard of ERISA disability claims in San Diego CA, what exactly is the difference between them and standard ones? Thanks for the information!

  2. It's really helpful to know all the steps in filing a social security benefits claim. I also found the requirements for actually receiving benefits for hearing loss interesting. I'm not sure that my wife has had those tests done yet to see if she qualifies. If we find out that she does, we'll know how to file now. http://www.slaterlawpc.com

  3. My daughter is sixteen and deaf. She is deaf enough that she isn't allowed to drive. It is nice to know that with a hearing impairment that she can still possibly be eligible for SSDI.


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