Dyslexia, also called developmental reading disorder (DRD), is broadly defined as a learning disability that affects a person’s reading comprehension. The reason the definition is so expansive is that the term "dyslexia" refers to a wide variety of linguistic difficulties rather than just the tendency to mix up the order of words and letters. In most confirmed cases, dyslexia is characterized by the inability to interpret or process symbols properly.
Unlike many impairments that qualify someone for Social Security disability, dyslexia tends to have a less devastating effect on a claimant’s ability to live and be successful in the working world. A dyslexia sufferer’s ability to make use of adaptive methods to minimize the effect of his or her impairment makes a Social Security disability argument nearly impossible to make. This is because dyslexia generally does not prevent individuals from seeking and keeping gainful employment, even when reading and writing are daily requirements. Many successful individuals are dyslexic, and several notable historical figures are popularly believed to have been afflicted with the disorder.
How Does the Social Security Administration View Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is generally classified as a learning disability, and learning disabilities are not alone enough to claim disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has not historically considered dyslexia severe enough a disability to fall under the strict Blue Book guidelines, and dyslexia is not mentioned expressly in SSA’s list of recognized disorders.
When it reviews any impairment, the SSA takes into account the severity of the disorder and the degree to which it impacts the claimant’s ability to work. The vast majority of claimants who suffer from dyslexia do not see their lives seriously limited by the disorder. Most people with dyslexia do not have difficulty in most social situations or a lower-than-average IQ, and those with dyslexia often excel in other areas not affected by the disorder. While dyslexia sufferers may experience some difficulty with language, they generally do not experience difficulties in other ordinary tasks. In short, it is difficult to prove a high level of impairment for dyslexia because sufferers are usually employable, unless they also have some type of physical impairment.
Can You Get Disability With Severe Dyslexia or Illiteracy?
If a mental impairment is so severe that it prevents someone from performing even unskilled work, it can qualify for disability benefits even though it is not on the SSA's official list of recognized impairments. In order for the SSA to award benefits for an unlisted mental impairment, claimants must show that the disorder is both of the following:
- medically determinable (a recognized medical condition that is able to be diagnosed)
- so severe that the person is unable to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA), a technical phrase associated with the ability to earn money through employment.
For a mental impairment to prevent a person from doing SGA, the claimant would have to show that the impairment prevents him or her from doing even unskilled work that does't require reading or writing, such as hand-packing or dish-washing. Since dyslexia doesn't prevent this type of unskilled work, dyslexia wouldn't qualify for disability benefits.
Even if you have a complete inability to read and write due to dyslexia, the SSA will consider you able to work unless you suffer from a physical impairment as well. In some cases, such as where the claimant is illiterate, older (over 45 or 50), and limited to sedentary or light work, the claimant might be considered disabled and be approved for disability benefits.
The SSA recognizes that while dyslexia is a serious learning disability responsible for hardship and frustration, most dyslexia sufferers can still live ordinary lives and be gainfully employed on a continual basis. As such, disability benefits are not suitable for the overwhelming majority of dyslexia claimants, and the unwritten rule is that dyslexia does not rise to the level of severity required to qualify for SSDI or SSI.