Statutory Blindness

Many of you have heard of the term “legally blind.” While you may know vaguely that it involves severe impediments to vision, most probably do not know what actually qualifies. The reason it is called “legally blind” is because there is a statutory definition of what qualifies a person as such. And, like many other disabilities, a diagnosis of legal, a.k.a. statutory, blindness will cause a person to be eligible for disability payments.

Legal blindness is defined in two sections of the Social Security Act: § 216(i)(B) (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(B)) and § 1614(a)(2) (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(2)). Both sections of the Act define “blindness” as:

central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of a correcting lens. An eye which is accompanied by a limitation in the fields of vision such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees shall be considered for purposes of this paragraph as having a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less. (emphasis added)

To qualify for Social Security disability under blindness due to a lack of visual acuity, you will need to obtain a basic eye examination that provides measurements of your best-corrected visual acuity. Mere myopia is not enough to qualify a person for disability; otherwise over 32 million Americans over the age of 40 would be receiving benefits. Neither is mere visual impairment, defined as being capable of at best 20/40 vision even with corrective lenses, enough to qualify. To be legally blind, you need to prove that even with the best possible corrective lenses, your best eye can only achieve 20/200 visual acuity. In other words, even the good eye can only see an object sitting 20 feet away as clearly as someone with perfect 20/20 vision can see that same object if it were 200 feet away.

The other way to qualify for Social Security due to blindness is through a severely diminished visual field. A person with a healthy visual field can typically see at least 60 degrees in all direction without moving his eyes. Those who qualify for legal blindness due to loss of visual field cannot see more than 20 degrees in any direction. In other words, the person afflicted has almost completely lost his peripheral vision, something which is usually a symptom of an affliction such as glaucoma. A standard eye examination will reveal the extent of a person’s visual field.

(As a side note, in Indiana, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles states that to be eligible for a license, you must have a minimum of 20/40 visual acuity in at least one eye. The other eye can be virtually blind and you will still be allowed to drive).

Unlike many other bases for Social Security disability, documentation of the cause of the statutory blindness is not required, so long as it is something detectable with a basic eye examination. For blindness caused by abnormalities not readily observed from a standard eye examination, such as traumatic brain injury to the visual cortex, documentation of the source of the injury must be provided. Also unlike many other bases of disability, you do not need to prove that this blindness has been present for any particular length of time.

If you think you may be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits and have questions, give me a call toll free at 800-296-2290 or contact me at tsmith@tedsmithlaw.com.

Indiana Trial Lawyers Association