Inability to Read or Write Makes Getting Disability Easier?
In evaluating disability benefits, the Social Security Administration looks beyond a person’s physical and mental impairments and considers certain “vocational criteria.” These vocational criteria considered, include a person’s age, education and work experience. Other factors in this arena can be the claimant’s literacy level and English proficiency.
What Does Literacy and English Proficiency Mean In Social Security Disability?
For Social Security disability purposes, literacy means a person’s ability to read and write. English proficiency refers to a person’s ability to understand, read and write in English. Generally, an illiterate person has had little or no formal schooling, but education does not necessarily assure literacy. Consider also whether a person with a limited IQ might be functionally illiterate. Literacy affects employability: a person would not be able to read an inventory list, write a simple note or look up a phone number.
What Does Social Security Look at Regarding Literacy and English Proficiency?
The evaluation looks at how long a person attended school, and whether there is an ability to speak, understand, read and write in English. Informal education through past work, volunteer positions or other activities is reviewed. Clues to literacy include a special education background, or history of leaving school at an early age. Many times, a social security disability claimants school records will document the in ability to read. Occasionally, a disability law judge may ask a person to demonstrate their ability to read, write or their proficiency in English during a person’s Disability Law Judge Hearing before the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR).
How Does Literacy Affect Different Claimants?
Using information about this aspect of a person’s background has a subtle effect on the disability process. Each of the following, by themselves, or taken together can make it easier to obtain Social Security Disability benefits:
- Being unable to read;
- Being unable to write;
- Being unable to read, write or speak in English;
- Having dropped out of school before high school graduation without obtaining a General Education Development (GED) test.
If the underlying disabling condition is only moderately severe, perhaps not quite enough to qualify for benefits, being unable to read, write, and speak in English and/or having dropped out of school before graduating (without a GED) can be the information that tips the scale in favor of the claimant. We can help to collect the records or develop the evidence, including school records from many years ago, that emphasize missing vocational skills.
Here are examples of claimants and how literacy, English proficiency and a lack of a high school degree affected their disabiliity claim:
- A 46 year old worker. She quit school in the ninth grade. She never got a GED. She is unable to read or write English. She applied for disability because of fibromyalgia and diabetes, Type-2. Her past work included cleaning hotel rooms, which is unskilled work. She has the physical ability to perform sedentary work. Because of her inability to read or write and her limited education, the grid rules directed a finding of disabled in spite of her young age. The same 46 year old worker will be denied disability benefits if they are able to read and write in English.
- A 51 year old claimant. He quit school in 11th grade. He never got a GED. He can read and write English. He applied for Social Security Disability disability due a herniated disk in his back that caused severe pain that radiated down his legs. His past work was as an unskilled laborer on construction sites. He has the physical ability to perform sedentary desk jobs. Because of his inability to read and write and his limited education, the grid rules directed a finding of disabled. The same 51 year old worker will be denied benefits if they are able to read and write in English.
- A 54-year-old man. He quit school after 10th grade. He can read and write in English. He applied for disability after having bilateral (both) knee replacement. His past work in a factory was as a sorter and is classified as unskilled. He had the physical ability to do sedentary work. The grids would direct a finding of disabled because he did not graduate from high school or obtain a GED. The same 54 year old will be denied benefits, if they graduated from high school or obtained a GED.
When our client has only performed jobs with heavy lifting during his life, we know to ask questions about literacy and English competency. An illiterate person with a physical limitation will have difficulty finding a job with a lower exertion level. It will, however, be easier for them to obtain Social Security disability because an inability to read or write makes getting disability easier just like when Social Security disability get easier when a person gets older.
People develop good coping and compensation skills to hide the fact that they can’t read and write. Many times, a person that cannot read and write will ask another person to read or write for them. Others will state that they have “forgotten” their eyeglasses when asked to read a document. There is still a lot of shame attached to illiteracy. It may take more than simple questions to discover the facts. Ask someone to fill out a form right in front of you and see what happens. Many people with such limitations may have had a friend fill out all the Social Security application forms for them, and so Social Security never suspects a literacy issue.
Once a claimant is eligible for disability benefits from Social Security, it opens the door to a range of vocational services that can include remedial training and even college education.
If you believe you might be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, or would like to learn more, please call us at 855-GO-DISABILITY.