Hearing loss can mean different things to different people, and it affects people in different ways. There is a wide spectrum between normal hearing and profound hearing loss. Sounds are measured in decibels; the more sounds that someone cannot hear at a certain decibel level, the greater their hearing loss. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, more than 37 million adults in the U.S. report some hearing loss.
Degrees of Hearing Loss
Most people have normal hearing, meaning that they have no mor than 25 decibels of hearing loss. Those with normal hearing can hear sounds like mosquitos buzzing, leaves rustling, and people breathing.
Mild hearing loss is between 26 to 40 decibels. Some people with mild hearing loss may not know that they have a problem because they can still hear most normal sounds. They may not be able to hear things like people whispering or refrigerators humming.
Moderate hearing loss is between 41 to 55 decibels. Individuals with moderate hearing loss may miss out on sounds like rain falling or someone typing on a keyboard.
Moderate to severe hearing loss is between 56 and 70 decibels. These people have trouble hearing others talk and it can be heard for them to maintain conversation or enjoy social events. People with moderate to severe hearing loss often can’t hear people laughing or people talking at an normal volume.
Those with severe hearing loss have lost between 71 to 90 decibels. Severe hearing loss greatly affects the life of those who suffer from it. Not only are they limited in their interactions with others, but they may not even hear traffic noises, sirens, or alarms.
Profound hearing loss is the most significant form of hearing loss and is defined by loss of 91 to 100 decibels. Those who suffer from profound hearing loss spend their days in silence. They may still be able to hear thunder or fireworks but may not be able to hear an engine revving or someone shouting.
Hearing Loss Often Affects Your Ability to Work
Hearing loss impacts many aspects of a person’s life including communication, speech, cognition, emotional health, and interaction with others. Hearing loss can greatly limit the type of work someone is able to perform and there are far less job opportunities available for those who suffer from severe or profound hearing loss. For example, it may be difficult for individuals with hearing loss to work in a position where they have to communicate directly and frequently with the public (retail, waitressing, hospitality). Driving can also be hard for someone with hearing loss.
Can Hearing Loss Qualify You for Social Security Disability Benefits?
Hearing loss does not automatically qualify someone for disability. In fact, the hearing loss has to be quite significant for someone to qualify. Someone who only has hearing loss in one ear does not qualify for disability benefits. Also, if an individual’s employer is able to modify their job to accommodate their hearing loss, or if the job does not require good hearing, the person will not be approved for hearing loss. With current technology, those with even profound hearing loss are still able to excel in many work places.
Since there is such a spectrum of hearing loss, it is important to reference the SSA Blue Book to determine whether an individual’s degree of hearing loss will qualify for disability. The criteria outlined by the SSA can be found in Blue Book Sections 2.10 and 2.11. The Blue Book requires an average threshold of 90 decibels or greater in the better ear and an average hearing threshold of 60 decibels or greater OR a word recognition score of 40 perfect or less in the better ear. Based on this criteria, someone must have fairly severe hearing loss to qualify for disability.
As with any SSA determination, qualified medical testing and records is critical. A hearing test performed by a professional is the first step.
Treatment for Hearing Loss Can Help Your Disability Claim
After hearing loss is identified, a person will undergo a series of tests to determine the severity of the loss. Treatment depends on the cause and severity of the hearing loss and there are many options available including surgery, hearing aids, and cochlear implants. Cochlear implants are electronic devices that can partially restore hearing by bypassing damaged portions of the ear to deliver sound signals to the hearing nerve.
Can Someone Still Qualify for Social Security with a Cochlear Implant or other Treatment?
Cochlear implantation is considered a disability for one full year after surgery. After the first year passes, the individual may still qualify for disability under Blue Book Listing 2.11 if they have a word recognition score of less than 60% using a Hearing in Noise Test.
Maintaining Employment with Hearing Loss
Our advice is always to consider all options for seeking and sustaining work before applying for disability. There are many reasons for this. First, someone is ineligible for disability—no matter what the extent of their medical problems—if the person is working above the level of “Substantial Gainful Activity” or SGA. For wage workers, the 2022 SGA amount is $1,350 per month. In the long term, it’s not an option to get a monthly disability benefit while at the same time working and earning more than this SGA amount.
Therefore, someone in their 30s who is seeking disability may be limiting their financial potential. (The average monthly disability benefit is even less than this SGA amount.) I would advise this person that employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for people with medical problems under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations, they still have every right to demand that employees maintain regular attendance and stay on task throughout the workday. If an employee has an impairment that prevents this, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may enable an employee to keep their job for a period of time, but certainly does not mandate that an employee be paid while not working. In short, the ADA and FMLA can be helpful, but still leave problems for workers who struggle with chronic diseases.
Our Social Security Disability Attorneys Are Here to Help
The length of time associated with the disability application process and its uneven decision making are also factors to consider. Someone applying for disability may be approved right away but, if not, can expect to wait 1-2 years before getting to go in front of a judge for a hearing. (It used to be longer.) This person could then end up a judge who only approves around 10% of their cases. These factors indicate that someone should explore all options for working before applying for disability.
Perhaps most importantly, however, a claim for Social Security Disability benefits is going to be stronger if the decision maker can see that the person seeking disability has done everything they could to work before applying. If we can show that someone has explored various work-related options and complied with the reasonable recommendations of doctors to treat the disease, but is still unable to sustain employment, a reasonable judge is likely to approve the claim.
If you reach this point, our Social Security attorneys are available to help you pursue the disability benefits you need. While there are certainly challenges associated with the disability application process, we can help you navigate those and present your case as strongly and persuasively as possible. You are welcome to contact us for a free consultation.