When medical issues prevent you or a loved one from working, Social Security disability payments can keep you from sinking into debt. These benefits help disabled people afford basic needs to maintain their independence.
If someone close to you struggles with illiteracy, it’s important to understand that being unable to read is not a qualifying medical problem. That said, it does affect whether they can work despite their medical condition. If a person has a qualifying condition plus can’t read, Social Security is more likely to decide they can’t work any job.
Contact a Social Security disability lawyer, or continue reading to learn more.
Basic Requirements for Social Security Disability
To understand how illiteracy affects disability, you must first familiarize yourself with the requirements for Social Security disability:
Social Security has three basic criteria for qualifying for disability benefits in any situation:
- Health problems prevent someone from doing their past work.
- They can’t switch to a different job.
- Their health conditions will last at least a year.
When a health problem prevents an individual from working in a certain profession, illiteracy can rule out other jobs.
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How Illiteracy Fits Into SSA Rules
When someone can’t read, that affects whether they can function in a new job despite their health problems. Here’s a summary of how Social Security treats illiteracy:
- Social Security considers someone illiterate if they can’t read or write basic material like simple messages, instructions, and inventory lists.
- Social Security decides whether a worker can perform a physical job that doesn’t require reading.
- If health rules out physical work, Social Security examines whether a person can perform less physical work, like a desk job.
- If workers can’t do a new job because it requires reading, their chances of winning benefits improve.
A disability attorney can also help the claimant fill out the application and avoid mistakes when applying, which can be particularly challenging for a person who cannot read.
Federal Regulations Regarding Limited Education, Illiteracy, and Language Barriers
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has established specific regulations to determine the impact of limited education and illiteracy on disability claims. According to the Code of Federal Regulations: Title 20, past work experience and the nature of the claimant’s responsibilities can provide insights into their intellectual abilities, even if they have limited formal education.
The regulations also acknowledge that formal education completed long before the onset of the claimant’s impairment or unused past skills may no longer be relevant to their ability to work (20 CFR §§ 404.1564(b), 416.964(b)).
The SSA’s Definition of Illiteracy
Illiteracy is defined under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1564(b)(1) and 416.964(b)(1) as the inability to read or write.
The SSA considers an individual illiterate if they cannot read or write a simple message, such as instructions or inventory lists, even if they can sign their name.
Typically, illiterate individuals have had minimal or no formal schooling. The regulations require the SSA to inquire about the claimant’s duration of schooling and their ability to speak, understand, read, write, and perform basic arithmetic in English (20 CFR §§ 404.1564(b)(6), 416.964(b)(6)).
Please remember that literacy and “functional illiteracy” are not synonymous regarding Social Security eligibility requirements.
Reading at a level that is below that of the third grade is considered functional illiteracy. For the purposes of Social Security, however, illiteracy refers to an individual’s inability to read or write.
Even if they can sign their name, people who cannot read or write even the most basic messages are considered illiterate. When defining what it means to be illiterate, the SSA has a stringent standard.
How Age Factors Into Determining Eligibility
Social Security disability grid rules, specifically § 201.00(h), outline criteria for determining disability in certain cases.
A claimant may be deemed disabled if they are:
- At least 45 years old.
- Restricted to sedentary work.
- Unskilled or lacking in transferable skills.
- Lacking relevant past work.
- Unable to perform vocationally relevant past work.
- Illiterate or unable to communicate in English.
While age is important in deciding whether a person is disabled, it is usually not a significant factor for individuals under 45.
This is because, at that age, it does not significantly limit their ability to adjust to vocational demands. This is true even of some unskilled sedentary workers if they are illiterate or unable to communicate in English.
How Communication Issues Compound Other Factors
Although illiteracy or the inability to communicate in English can significantly impact a person’s vocational profile, the primary work functions in most unskilled jobs involve working with objects rather than data or people. In these vocations, the ability to communicate in English holds less significance.
Therefore, individuals between 18 and 44, even if they are illiterate or unable to communicate in English, have a functional capability for a wide range of sedentary work, indicating a high level of employability.
Acquiescence ruling, AR 86-3(5), was issued in response to the Martinez v. Heckler case. This ruling states that when both illiteracy and the inability to communicate in English are alleged or 2questioned, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) must address both issues.
If individuals aged 18 to 44 are limited to sedentary work, are unskilled or have no work history, and are found to be both illiterate and unable to communicate in English, the lowest category of the Grid regulations, such as Grid Rule 201.23, cannot be applied automatically.
Similarly, Grid Rule 202.16 cannot be mechanically applied to individuals who are both illiterate and unable to communicate in English.
Is Illiteracy a Disability?
Illiteracy, defined as the inability to read or write at a functional level, is not considered a disability in and of itself for Social Security disability benefits. Instead, illiteracy is looked at more like an educational level.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates disability claims based on physical or mental impairments significantly impacting an individual’s ability to work and engage in substantial gainful activity.
While illiteracy does not qualify as a disability, one’s ability to read or other education limitations certainly contribute to the overall assessment of an individual’s limitations and impairments.
For example, suppose an individual’s illiteracy is caused or associated with an underlying cognitive or learning disability. In that case, the SSA may consider the effects of that underlying condition in determining eligibility for benefits.
In evaluating disability claims, the SSA focuses on the functional limitations caused by the impairments rather than the impairments themselves. This means that illiteracy, if it significantly affects an individual’s ability to perform work-related tasks or adapt to changes in the workplace, may be considered part of the overall assessment of a disability claim.
It’s important to note that the SSA evaluates the impact of impairments on an individual’s ability to perform work rather than solely relying on diagnosing a specific medical condition.
Therefore, if illiteracy and other physical or mental impairments hinder an individual’s capacity to perform a gainful activity, their inability to read may strengthen the case for granting them Social Security disability benefits.
The above regulations are highly complex and often change, so it’s best to consult a qualified attorney about your case.
Does Limited Education Affect Eligibility?
Like illiteracy, limited education can impact the evaluation of a Social Security disability benefits claim. The SSA considers an individual’s educational background as one of the factors when assessing the impact of impairments on their ability to work.
While a limited school education may not qualify as a disability, it can significantly affect an individual’s vocational abilities and capacity to adapt to different work environments.
The SSA recognizes that individuals with lower levels of education may have fewer job opportunities available to them and may face challenges in acquiring new skills or transitioning to different types of work.
When evaluating a disability claim, the SSA considers the individual’s educational background and physical or mental impairments. The goal is to determine the functional limitations caused by the impairments and how they impact the individual’s ability to engage in gainful activity.
Limited education may influence an individual’s functional capacity to understand complex instructions, learn new tasks, or adapt to technological advancements in the workplace. It may also affect their communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and employability.
It’s important to provide detailed information about your loved one’s educational background when applying for Social Security disability benefits. This includes any formal education, vocational training, or specialized certifications they have obtained.
Additionally, if they have completed any special programs or received accommodations due to a learning disability or other educational challenges, include that information.
If your loved one has limited education and is seeking Social Security disability benefits, presenting a clear and comprehensive picture of their situation is crucial. This includes how their educational limitations, combined with their impairments, impact their ability to work.
Working with an experienced Social Security disability attorney can enable your loved one to build a strong case that effectively communicates the limitations imposed by their educational background and actual impairments.
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Does the Inability To Speak and Understand English Affect Eligibility?
As previously mentioned, the SSA considers the individual’s ability to communicate in English alongside their physical or mental impairments. The goal is to determine the functional limitations caused by the impairments and how they impact the individual’s ability to perform work-related activities.
The inability to speak and understand English can limit an individual’s job placement and advancement opportunities, depending on their language and geographic locale.
A language barrier may hinder their ability to understand instructions, interact with customers or clients, and effectively communicate their needs or concerns in the workplace.
It’s important to provide detailed information about your or your loved one’s language abilities and any language barriers that could make it hard to change jobs. This includes disclosing the applicant’s primary language, proficiency in English, and any difficulties they encounter due to language limitations.
An Attorney May Be Able To Help
Suppose your loved one has limited English proficiency and is seeking Social Security disability benefits. In that case, it is crucial to present a clear and comprehensive picture of how the language barrier, combined with their other impairments, impacts the applicant’s ability to work.
Working with an experienced Social Security disability attorney can greatly assist you or your family member in building a strong case that effectively communicates the limitations imposed by a combination of language barriers and impairment.
At Pilzer Klein, our dedicated attorneys understand the significance of language barriers in Social Security disability claims. We have extensive experience helping clients overcome communication challenges and navigate the complex process of obtaining disability benefits.
Let us guide your loved one through the disability application or appeals process to increase their chances of obtaining the benefits they deserve.
What Are the Requirements To Qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?
Regardless of a person’s literacy level, the SSA has specific criteria they must meet to be deemed disabled and be considered eligible for benefits.
To qualify for SSDI, you or the applicant in question must meet several requirements, including:
Work Credit Qualifications
The first requirement to qualify for SSDI is to earn the appropriate number of work credits. Work credits needed depend on the claimant’s age since that affects the length of time they could have worked. For example, the average 60-year-old needs 40 work credits earned within the past ten years, with the final year of work being the year the disability began.
Of course, this differs for younger claimants; a 20-year-old worker applying for benefits would need fewer work credits. For example, workers seeking benefits in their early 20s usually need six credits to be eligible. A worker can earn up to four work credits per year.
The number of work credits a person must have to qualify for disability benefits fluctuates yearly. For example, in 2023, every $1,640 an individual earns while working equals one credit. So once you earn $6,560 in wages, you have four credits for the year.
Medical Condition Requirements
The second eligibility requirement is for the claimant to be disabled and have a qualifying medical condition. The SSA states that the claimant’s condition must be ongoing for them to be eligible. This means the condition is expected to continue for at least 12 months or could result in their death.
The medical conditions that qualify a person for Social Security benefits are often life-threatening and significantly impact their daily activities.
Medical conditions that could potentially qualify a person for disability include those in the following categories:
- Musculoskeletal disorders
- Respiratory disorders
- Speech and sensory disorders
- Digestive system disorders
- Cardiovascular system issues
- Blood disorders
- Genital and urinary disorders
- Hormone disorders
- Skin disorders
- Neurological disorders
- Syndromes that affect various systems from birth
- Mental disorders
- Immune system disorders
Several disorders qualify within each of the above categories. Examples of sub-categories include depression, chronic kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.
A Social Security disability attorney from our firm will look into your or your family member’s specific condition and tell you whether they meet disability qualifications.
Ability to Work Determination
The SSA will evaluate the applicant’s ability to perform their previous job duties or any other job they qualify for. If the SSA determines that the applicant cannot perform any work, that person may be eligible for SSDI benefits.
Inability to work could mean that the claimant cannot perform physical actions such as lifting, bending, or using certain machinery due to a physical limitation. An intellectually impaired applicant may have trouble performing mental tasks that involve critical thinking, making decisions, or learning new skills.
Illiteracy is also limiting, so the claimant may have fewer options for finding suitable work.
Help Someone Get Financial Support
If someone close to you can’t read and cannot work due to health problems, the attorneys at Pilzer Klein know how to ensure their illiteracy gets proper consideration. You can help them by referring them to us. Disability income could make a big difference in their life, and we’ll evaluate their case for free.
We understand illiteracy and limited education’s role in Social Security disability claims. Let us guide your loved one through the application or appeals process to increase their chances of obtaining the disability benefits they deserve.
Contact us today by phone or text, or complete a free case evaluation form.