As the parent of a deaf child, I often meet families of people with significant hearing loss. When they learn of my profession, a question I am commonly asked is whether they can receive disability benefits for their hearing loss.
Typically, hearing loss by itself will not qualify for benefits under the Social Security Act, due to the wide range of treatments now available to accommodate the persons with hearing loss. Cochlear implantation, for example, often corrects hearing loss such that it will no longer be considered a disability after 1 year of implantation (Listing 2.11). Social Security can approve profound hearing loss not treated with cochlear implantation, if demonstrated by an average air conduction hearing threshold of 90 decibels or greater in the better ear and an average bone conduction hearing threshold of 60 decibels or greater in the better ear (Listing 2.10).
Where hearing loss is significant but not profound, it may still have an impact on a disability claim if it has more than a minimal effect on the ability to work (SSR 85-28). However, SSR 96-9p holds that “if a claimant retains the ability to hear and understand simple, oral instructions or to communicate simple information, the sedentary occupational base is not significantly eroded.” (SSR 96-9p). Thus, hearing loss by itself may impact an individual’s ability to work, but will not likely warrant a finding of disability unless the hearing loss is profound and uncorrected, or combined with other medical impairments that significantly erode the occupational base.