Special Senses and Speech

This category of impairments includes disorders affecting a person’s vision, hearing and speech.

Visual impairments can arise due to many medical disorders.  Some cause a loss of visual acuity (the ability to see clearly). Others cause a loss of visual field (a contraction of the normal field of vision, either centrally or peripherally).  Still others cause a loss of both visual acuity and visual field, or produce ocular dryness, pain and other symptoms that cause difficulty in the workplace.  Some of these problems can be corrected with surgery, medication, or the use of glasses or other visual aids. Others are not correctable.  

The Social Security Administration has established standards for visual impairments.  These call for evaluating the extent of impairment in the better eye and after best correction.  In general, a finding of disability is indicated where visual acuity in the better eye is 20/200 or less; where there is a loss of 80% of the field of vision; or where this is a loss of visual efficiency (combination of visual acuity and field of vision) of 80%.

Professionals and executives with visual impairments that don’t meet these standards can still qualify for disability benefits by showing they have difficulty reading, operating computers, working with small objects, and doing other things commonly required in an office or professional setting.  Establishing disability in these cases can be time consuming. It requires highly specialized and individualized proof.

Hearing impairments are associated with several medical disorders and can also be caused by trauma and other factors. Their symptoms include quantifiable loss of hearing, as well as problems such as tinnitus (ringing in the ears), vertigo, impaired balance, and other disturbances linked to inner-ear disorders.  Most hearing problems can be objectively measured by laboratory testing. Some are correctable with surgery or hearing aids, and others aren’t.

Professionals and others with even relatively mild hearing loss can still qualify for disability benefits by proving they lack the capacity for effective communication in their own place of work, or that they can’t perform their demanding job duties safely or effectively due to the physical manifestations (recurring dizziness, etc.) of their impairment.  

Speech disorders are usually evaluated on the extent to which they impair simple communication. Consideration must always be given to the availability and utility of electrical or mechanical devices that improve voice articulation.  Here again, it’s important to recognize that professionals, executives, teachers and others for whom clarity of speech is a critical requirement at work will require careful evaluation and specialized proof when filing a claim of disability predicated on speech impairment.