How Much Hearing Loss Is Considered Disabled?

Losing your hearing can be a traumatic experience in a number of ways, but the feeling of isolation is one of the toughest aspects to deal with. 

Either steadily or all of a sudden, you’re unable to engage with others in the same way as the majority of the population, and as society is built around this general majority, finding your place in it can be difficult. 

But at what point does that society acknowledge your strife and officially categorize you as a disabled individual?

Well, it’s not actually such an easy question to answer, as it all depends on who you’re asking. Different organizations subscribe to different definitions of disability.

The World Health Organization and Disability

To be deemed disabled by the World Health Organization (WHO), your condition must fall under one of these three categories…

  • Impairment – This refers to any extensive damage or deviation from the physical structure of a “normal” body. 

Sensorineural hearing loss falls safely into this category, as the physical structure of your inner ear has become damaged.

  • Activity Limitation – This category asks if a person is limited in terms of general activity, which the hard of hearing, of course, are. 

Verbal communication is an everyday act that has become challenging, if not impossible, due to hearing impairment.

  • Participation Restriction – If a condition makes it difficult for you to get a job, work that job, socialize, or take part in recreational activities, you’re considered disabled. Hearing loss fits into this category too.

So, in the eyes of the WHO, any extensive hearing loss is considered a disability, but it’s not their opinion that really matters, as it has very little bearing on your day-to-day life. The opinion of the SSA, on the other hand, is of grave importance.

The SSA’s Ideas on Hearing Loss and Disability

There’s no question that hearing loss is, objectively speaking, a disability, but it’s the job of the SSA to determine at what point your hearing loss qualifies you for state help in the form of disability benefits.

It’s a sensitive subject. While many hard of hearing individuals will be offended to be classed as disabled, there are also those that will feel marginalized and alone as a result of being classified as able-bodied.

Living with the hardship of hearing loss without qualifying for any help can be incredibly tough, but this is the case for numerous Americans whose hearing is yet to deteriorate below one of three SSA “Blue Book” thresholds.

  • Air Conduction Test – Hearing threshold below 90dBA.
  • Bone Conduction Test – Hearing threshold below 60dBA.
  • Word Recognition Test – Inability to repeat a minimum of 40% of the words.

As soon as your hearing abilities reach any one of these thresholds, according to the SSA, you’re officially disabled, which means you may well be entitled to SSA disability benefits.

The sum of these benefits is based on your own personal financial needs, so it’s impossible to give an exact figure, but the payments usually fall somewhere between $800–$1800 a month, with a max payout of $3011 per month.

SSA Disability Eligibility

Even if your hearing loss is sufficient for the SSA to classify you as a differently-abled individual, there are other requirements that may limit your eligibility. These include…

  • Monthly earnings below $1190
  • Hearing loss below the SSA’s standards in both ears. 
  • Your disability must not be the result of felonious activity on your part or due to an injury received in prison.

There have been instances of the SSA green lighting disability benefits for people who don’t meet a requirement in the “Blue Book”, but it’s rare. This type of benefit payment is known as a Medical Vocational Allowance.

To establish whether you meet alternative requirements, the SSA will carry out something known as a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) evaluation. The RFC evaluation takes into account your age, qualifications, job skills, education, and a number of other variables, then combines this data with your medical records to assess whether you are able to fulfill the duties of your qualified work area.

You may also be granted special approval if your profession specifically requires good hearing, such as customer service roles.

Will I Be Classed as Disabled After a Cochlear Implant?

Cochlear implants can take some getting used to. As such, you will officially be categorized as disabled and receive benefits for a year after the procedure. Once a year has elapsed, you can have your hearing tested again. If you fail to reach a score of at least 60% on a word recognition test, your benefits will be extended, and you will still be classed as disabled.

Is the Wearing of a Hearing Aid Classed as a Disability?

While a person may be heavily reliant on their hearing aid(s), neither wearing of them nor the need to wear them qualifies you as disabled in the eyes of the SSA.

If it helps you in your day-to-day life, you may feel comfortable wearing hearing aids despite suffering from very mild hearing loss, so neither the ADA nor SSA use them as a means of determining whether you’re eligible for disability benefits.

At What Point Are Children with Hearing Difficulties Considered Disabled?

Below the age of 5, a child must fall under the 50dBA threshold of an air conduction test in order to qualify for disability benefits. For children between the age of 5 and 18, this threshold increases to 70dBA, unless they’re experiencing significant speech or language difficulties. In this scenario, the threshold would remain 50dBA.

Alternatively, scoring 40% or less on a word recognition test would also mean they’re eligible, assuming their guardian falls under a certain pay rate.

If a child receives a cochlear implant, they’re considered disabled until they reach the age of 5, or if they’re over 4 years old, for a year after the procedure. Failing to reach a score of 60% on a word recognition test will extend their eligibility for benefits, as it does for adults.

How Much Hearing Loss Is Considered Disabled? Summing Up

As it’s not apparent to the passerby, hearing loss is what’s known as an invisible disability, and can leave people feeling increasingly unnoticed and forgotten, but SSA disability benefits can help them, not just financially, but to feel seen.

The general thresholds for eligibility are…

  • Below 90dBA in an air conduction test.
  • Below 60dBA in a bone conduction test.
  • And, 40% or less in a word recognition test.

The easiest way to apply for disability benefits is to go directly to the SSA website. The form will save your progress, so don’t worry about filling it out in one go. Alternatively, if you need some assistance filling out the application, you can make an appointment at the SSA office nearest to you.