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Language barriers may increase approval for SSD benefits

Written by Ankin Law Office

Illinois has a diverse population with many residents who natively speak languages other than English. According to national Census data, 21 percent of people over age 5 spoke a non-English language at home in 2011. Of those people, 22 percent reported speaking English poorly or not at all.

Limited English use can severely limit job opportunities, especially for people who suffer from debilitating conditions. Fortunately, as any Oak Lawn disability lawyer could attest, English use is weighed during Social Security Disability claims. People who can’t speak English may be more likely to receive SSD benefits.

Evaluating education

During the SSD claim process, some medical conditions are automatically considered disabling. However, more often, applicants receive benefits because they cannot gainfully work. To determine whether gainful work is available, claim examiners considers many aspects of each applicant’s background. The examiner then consults official guidelines to determine whether the person qualifies as disabled.

The factors that claims examiners evaluate include age, educational level, work experience and job-related skills. The Social Security Administration recognizes four levels of education, which are broken up as follows:

  • Inability to communicate in English — this includes an inability to speak, read or write English.
  • Illiteracy — a person who cannot read or write simple messages is illiterate.
  • Marginal education — education below the sixth grade level is marginal.
  • Limited education — a person who stopped school between seventh and eleventh grade has a limited education.

Under the SSA’s guidelines, older applicants with limited education or English use are likelier to qualify for SSD benefits. This is because younger workers are considered more capable of learning new skills. As any Oak Lawn disability lawyer could confirm, applicants under age 45 cannot receive SSD benefits based on language barriers. In contrast, older claimants may, even if they have the skills and physical capacity to work.

Potential reforms

The SSA may revise this policy because of its effects on claims in Puerto Rico. As U.S. citizens, residents of Puerto Rico can seek benefits, as any Oak Lawn disability lawyer would agree. However, current claim guidelines don’t account for the predominant use of Spanish in Puerto Rico. Some applicants may receive benefits because they can’t speak English, even though they speak the local language.

As The Washington Post explains, under these standards, highly skilled and educated individuals could be found disabled. An audit indicates that 218 people received benefits between 2011 and 2013 based on these guidelines. In response to the audit, the SSA is conducting research and accepting input about potential changes.

A rule change could allow claims examiners to consider local factors, including predominant language. However, this change would likely not affect non-English speaking claimants here in Illinois, where English remains the predominant language.

Categories: Social Security