Qualifying for SSDI if you have a hearing aidIf you have difficulty hearing what people are saying, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). But simply having hearing aids doesn’t automatically make you eligible for benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) lays out specific criteria. One of the major factors is an inability to work due to a disability. If you wear hearing aids and are able to work, you likely will not qualify for benefits. A Social Security disability lawyer can help assess your specific case and explain your options.

Hearing loss affects millions of Americans. Some people are born with some level of deafness. Others suffer an injury or lose their hearing over time. In any case, the SSA sees that people with hearing loss may struggle to find work. Qualifying for disability benefits is possible, but often only for those with profound hearing loss. Mild to moderate cases usually don’t meet the criteria, even if they wear hearing aids. 

Qualifying for SSDI With Cochlear Implants

The SSA Blue Book lists disabilities that may qualify for benefits. For each of these disabilities, the Blue Book describes the qualification criteria. Deafness and hearing loss have two main entries in the Blue Book. One of these is section 2.11, “Hearing Loss with a Cochlear Implant.” 

A cochlear implant is a small medical device that provides a sense of sound. An external part is placed behind the ear. A second part is surgically inserted under the skin. While cochlear implants do not restore normal hearing, they can help people with hearing loss experience a version of the sounds around them. They can better understand speech too.

When someone has a cochlear implant in one or both ears, they qualify for one year of SSDI benefits following the surgery. This is automatic. It doesn’t matter if the hearing improves or not during those 12 months. After the year has passed, the applicant will need to submit to a hearing test to continue receiving benefits. They must score 60 percent or less on a Hearing in Noise Test (HINT), a word recognition test. 

Cochlear implants are typically very expensive. They can cost as much as $125,000. Even with health coverage, this can be a heavy financial burden. Disability benefits can help to offset some of this expense. 

Are Other Types of Hearing Aids Eligible?

As beneficial as they may be for people with hearing loss, cochlear implants aren’t for everyone. The significant cost is one deterrent. There are many other reasons why someone may opt not to get one. Other types of hearing aids may be more convenient and less costly. They may be only a few thousand dollars rather than over $100,000. 

It is possible to receive SSDI benefits if you wear other hearing aids too. Unlike cochlear implant surgery, though, qualifying under Hearing Loss (2.10) is not automatic. Instead, the SSA outlines criteria for specific test results. They evaluate the severity of hearing loss. You must meet a minimum threshold to qualify for disability benefits. As mentioned, milder cases of hearing loss usually do not qualify. 

Assessing Hearing Loss for Disability Benefits

The SSA outlines hearing test requirements when applying for SSDI. There are two main parts of section 2.10 for hearing loss. To qualify for SSDI, you need to meet only one of these criteria. You do not need to satisfy both requirements. 

  • Audiometry test. This assesses your ear’s sensitivity to air conduction. You must show an average threshold of at least 90 decibels (dB) in your better ear. The test must also show a bone conduction hearing threshold of at least 60 decibels in your better ear.
  • Spoken word recognition test. This test gauges how well you can identify commonly spoken words. To qualify, you need a score lower than 40 percent in your better ear. 

The audiometry test calculates hearing loss at three sound frequencies. 

  • Low-frequency sounds around 500 hertz (Hz), like a growling animal
  • Middle-frequency sounds around 1,000 Hz, like a person’s voice
  • High-frequency sounds around 2,000 Hz, like chirping birds

For context, the human ear can register sounds between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz. This range varies by age and between individuals. 

For tests to be valid, they must be performed by an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor, or ENT) or a licensed physician. They can also be performed by an audiologist supervised by a physician or ENT. The SSA may also require an otologic (ear) exam. The doctor looks at your external ear canals and tympanic membranes. Another exam is an auditory evoked response test, assessing brainwave responses to tones. Vestibular testing checks the balance organs in the inner ear. 

You must have profound hearing loss or deafness in both ears to qualify for benefits. If you have one good ear that passes the above tests, you likely will not receive SSDI. Being able to hear well enough in one ear should allow you to work.

The Ability to Work With Hearing Loss or Deafness

Broadly speaking, there are two main criteria to qualify for SSDI benefits. You need to have a disability. And you must be unable to work because of that disability. If you have a condition but are still able to work, you are not eligible to receive SSDI.

To this end, wearing a hearing aid does not qualify you for benefits in and of itself. In fact, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that employers must provide reasonable accommodations. This will depend on the type of work. It may involve closed captioning, text messaging, or ASL interpreters. 

You may be able to perform the duties of some jobs without being able to hear at all. You may experience some limitations, but you can do the work. In these cases, you do not receive SSDI. In other careers, being able to hear is critically important. The SSA handles these on a case-by-case basis, assessing your ability to work given your level of hearing loss. 

The SSDI Application Process 

Most commonly, people are able to apply for SSDI online. Alternatively, they are able to phone the Social Security Administration to book an appointment. The SSA makes accommodations for people who are deaf or hard of hearing too. They can call the toll-free TTY number. This relays text messages over the telephone network. 

Applying for SSDI can feel overwhelming. You need to gather medical evidence to prove your disability. This can include test results, doctor’s reports, and other documentation. You should include any corrective measures you have taken. It is also helpful to include reports on how the disability affects your ability to work. To qualify, you must have accrued enough work credits over your career as well. There are many forms to complete and deadlines to meet. Then, you may need to engage in the Social Security hearing process with a judge too.

In some cases, your application may need a residual functioning capacity (RFC) form. Your doctor completes this form to explain how your work is affected by your hearing loss. It looks at your capacity to work in light of your disability. Many applications are denied the first time around and require applicants to file for an appeal. 

Why You Need a Skilled Social Security Disability Attorney

Navigating the application process can be a complex affair. There is a lot of documentation involved. Even if you meet all the filing deadlines, the SSA may still deny your claim. A skilled Social Security disability lawyer can help present your case in the most effective way possible. A qualified SSDI attorney can identify what documents can improve your chances of approval.

For instance, it is often in your best interest to submit as much medical evidence as possible. The more proof you have of your disability, the stronger your case may be. But, this evidence needs to be relevant. It needs to support your claim effectively. An experienced disability lawyer can help package your application compellingly.

Even if your hearing loss does not meet SSA Blue Book criteria, you may still be eligible to receive benefits. Your SSDI lawyer can work to develop a strong strategy for your application. This includes medical evidence but also requires proof that you are unable to work. And, should the need arise, your lawyer can guide, prepare, and represent you throughout the appeals process. 

Patrick Hartwig
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Managing Attorney, Keefe Disability Law