The Social Security disability program can pose a challenging mystery to applicants. When you file for disability, you must provide detailed medical records, work history and educational background; Social Security examiners take all this information into account. Nevertheless, the agency denies approximately two-thirds of the claims filed for disability and is never too specific about the reasons. Illiteracy may contribute to your inability to get work, but can't be the only reason for a disability.
The Basics of Disability
Social Security's definition of disability is a mental or physical impairment that has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months or result in your death and which prevents you from gainful employment. You must be at least 18 years of age; you must provide medical records and doctor's opinions to support your claim; you must also provide your work history going back fifteen years. If you are claiming a learning disability, you must provide evidence in the form of professional reports and school records.
Social Security considers your work history and education level in addition to your medical situation. The agency's formal definition of illiteracy is the inability to read or write a simple message "such as instructions or inventory lists." By itself, illiteracy does not mean you're disabled. A person unable to read or write can still perform work, even if the work is only simple labor such as housekeeping or roofing. But illiteracy may contribute to disability if you have other ailments and vocational factors are working against you in the job market.
Education level is one of the vocational factors Social Security considers. The agency takes into account the highest grade you completed, in addition to any professional training you've received. Illiteracy signifies limited or no education. This may support a finding of disability, depending on your age, work experience and medical impairment. Basically, the older you are, the easier it is to get disability. Younger people, in Social Security's view, still have an opportunity to retrain or learn to read and write, or learn English if needed, and have tougher disability standards to meet.
Getting on the Grid
The Social Security "grids" are matrices that break down applications by age, education and residual functional capacity (RFC), meaning what kind of work you can still do. Illiteracy can only be a contributing factor if you are at least 45 years of age or older, and depends on your RFC. If you're only physically capable of a sedentary job, then illiteracy supports a finding of disability. If you still can handle basic tasks such as assembly line work that don't require literacy, then illiteracy doesn't help a disability application; there needs to be additional factors present, such as a mental incapacity of some sort.
Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.