Illiteracy and Social Security Disability

Illiteracy alone does not warrant a finding of disability, as a claimant must have medical conditions that impair his or her ability to work in the national economy. That said, illiteracy is a feature of the claimant’s education level, which is considered when determining the availability of any jobs, along with the claimant’s age and work history.

A claimant who cannot read or write simple messages (as defined in Section 404.1564 of the Code of Federal Regulations) is considered functionally illiterate. An illiterate 45-49 year-old person who is limited to sedentary work (jobs that are primarily performed seated) by his or her medical conditions with unskilled or no prior work history is considered disabled automatically by the Social Security Medical-Vocational Guidelines (see 201.17). A person with the same limitations younger than 45 is not disabled, again per Social Security’s rules.

As one gets older, the rules change in a claimant’s favor. An illiterate person age 50-54 limited to light work (jobs primarily performed standing and walking, with limited lifting and carrying) with unskilled or no prior work history is considered disabled, while a person younger than that with the same limitations is not disabled. Interestingly, after age 55 illiteracy is not a factor in determining disability per the Social Security Medical-Vocational guidelines, though logically illiteracy does not cease being a relevant consideration.

Even if the guidelines do not command a finding of disability, illiteracy is a relevant factor in a claimant’s disability case. The inability to effectively read and write will always limit a claimant’s job prospects, and coupled with the claimant’s medical restrictions can effectively preclude work in a competitive environment. Therefore, a Social Security Disability attorney can be invaluable, as he or she can prepare for close questioning of vocational experts who testify as to the availability of jobs at disability hearings.

Contact one of our attorneys at Hoglund, Chwialkowski, Mrozik, PLLC. at 855.513.4357 to find out more.


By Adam Kachelski

Written by Adam Kachelski

Adam Kachelski is a 2014 graduate of the University of Wisconsin School of Law. He lives and works in Cincinnati.

View all author posts →

Additional Related Articles

Legal Blog Expert