The Social Security Administration (SSA) does provide disability for the special senses, also called sensory organs disability, which includes both vision and hearing loss.
SSA defines visual disorders as any abnormality of the eye, optic nerve, or the brain that may cause a loss of vision or visual acuity that might limit a person’s ability to read or distinguish visual detail. Included in this listing are disorders that involve a loss of visual field, which might affect a person’s peripheral vision.
The SSA’s definition of blindness is a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye even with the use of a corrective lens. In other words, SSA will use your best corrected vision for distance to determine whether you meet the requirements for statutory blindness per their definition for disability.
The SSA does need medical evidence of detailed eye examinations, including documentation of your central visual acuity in your better eye or your visual field determination in your better eye. SSA does not require documentation about what caused your blindness, but they do need evidence regarding what caused your loss of either visual acuity or visual field. Standard eye exams usually include this type of information. However, some visual field deficits such as cortical visual disorders may not be automatically included on an eye exam report, so work with your vision care provider to obtain a report containing this information.
The SSA calculates a rating of visual efficiency, an indicator of your remaining visual function. This value is a rating of your visual acuity efficiency and your visual field efficiency.
To evaluate hearing loss, the SSA requires two exams: an otologic examination and audiometric testing. This will determine whether you have a medical impairment that is causing the hearing loss. The SSA wants to see an audiometric test conducted within two months of the otologic examination. The audiometric testing is also used to assess the severity of your hearing loss.
These examinations must be performed by a licensed physician or an audiologist. Audiometric testing can also be performed by an otolaryngologist. The medical report needs to include the physician’s or audiologist’s description of the external ears, an evaluation of the tympanic membranes, and an assessment of any middle ear abnormalities that might be present.
The SSA wants each ear tested separately. They want to see either pure tone air conduction testing or bone conduction testing. For speech testing, SSA needs either speech reception threshold (SRT) testing (spondee threshold ST testing), as well as word recognition (discrimination) testing. If you are not fluent in English, ask the audiologist to perform this test in the language you are most fluent in. Just remember that the person conducting the test also needs to be fluent in this language. These tests must be conducted in a sound-treated booth or room in accordance with American National Standards Institute (ANSI) testing. You cannot wear any hearing aids during this testing.
Additionally, you must provide the SSA with a detailed medical history, and a narrative of how your hearing loss affects you.
The SSA will consider all evidence and use the average of the air and bone conduction hearing thresholds at 500, 1000, and 2000 Hertz (Hz) to make their disability determination.
If you already have a cochlear implant, SSA will consider you to be disabled one year after the initial implant. For hearing loss caused by neurovestibular disorders like Meniere’s disease, SSA requires comprehensive neurological exams with detailed descriptions of the episodes you have (frequency, duration, severity); they also require all of the above testing.
The SSA can still evaluate your sensory organs disability even if it doesn’t meet their specific criteria listing. In these cases, SSA will determine if your impairment is medically equal to another listing in their criteria. SSA also provides a determination of residual functional capacity (RFC), so even if you don’t have a disability that is medically equal, the RFC can be performed to make a determination of whether you’re able to participate in substantial work with your disability.