If you are deaf or have significant hearing loss, you are eligible for Social Security Disability (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). In order to determine your eligibility, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will require certain tests.
- Otological Exam: The first test that is required is an otological exam. Otology is the study of the ear. During the otology exam, a doctor will take your medical history, ask questions about your hearing loss and how it affects your life, and do a thorough physical examination to see if there are any obvious problems with your ear canal or eardrum that may be affecting your hearing.
You will also need a hearing test. There are several types of hearing (audiometry) tests that may be required by the SSA. These tests are usually performed by audiologists. The audiologist will do a physical exam of the ear immediately before the test to make sure there are no conditions that may affect your test results.
- Hearing Tests: The SSA usually requires results from both pure tone air (PTA) conduction testing (sounds that travel through the air) and bone conduction (sound that moves through the ear bones) testing. During these tests, you will wear a set of headphones. You will be asked to raise your hand or push a button when you hear a tone. Hearing is tested at several different frequencies: 500, 1000, 2000, and 3000 Hertz [Hz]. The decibel (dB) level at which a sound of each frequency can be heard is the pure tone threshold.
- A person with normal hearing can hear sounds of 0-25 dB.
- Normal conversation is in the 45–60 dB range.
- A person who cannot hear below 90 dB (air conduction) or 60 dB (bone conduction) in their better ear may qualify for SSDI benefits.
- Speech Recognition Test (SRT): A speech recognition test measures how well you can hear speech by determining the lowest decibel at which test words can be heard at least 50 percent of the time. You will be asked to repeat one and two syllable words that are played at different volumes. The results of the SRT usually correlate with the results of the hearing tests.
- Word recognition tests: The SSA is also interested in how well you are able to discriminate what you hear. As in the SRT, words are read from a pre-recorded list. There may be background noise for some words. The words are all one syllable and applicant must try to identify the words. People with normal hearing can identify most or all of the words. A person with profound hearing loss will identify less than half of the words.
- Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response Testing (BAER): If there are questions about your test results, the SSA may order a brainstem auditory evoked response test. During BAER testing, you will be asked to sit in a reclining chair or bed. Electrodes will be placed in your ear and on your scalp. You will put on a set of headphones that will play a series of clicks. The electrodes will measure the brain’s response to these clicks.
The results of these tests will be recorded on an audiogram. This is a chart that shows your level of hearing. You will need to provide a copy of this chart to the SSA. You should also keep a copy for your records.
Do you have questions about Social Security disability benefits for the hearing impaired? Boston disability attorney John Keefe has written a book that answers the most frequently asked questions about SSDI. Request your free copy of Five Most Frequently Asked Questions about Social Security Disability by following the link in the sidebar. Need more help? Please call Keefe Disability Law at 888-904-6847 and ask to schedule an appointment with a Massachusetts SSDI attorney. The initial consultation is free.