In disability benefit evaluation, Social Security looks beyond physical and metal impairments to consider certain “vocational criteria.” These include person’s age, education, and work experience. Other little-known factors in this arena are the claimant’s literacy level and English proficiency.
Generally, an illiterate person has had little or no formal schooling, but educational does not necessarily assure literacy competence. Consider also whether a person with a limited IQ might be functionally illiterate. For literacy to affect employability, it must be so limited that a person could not read an inventory list, write a simple note or look up a phone number. The inquiry goes to how long a person attended school, and also to whether there is an ability to speak, understand, read and write in English. Informal education through past work, volunteer positions or other activities will be evaluated. There is a tip-off if there is a special education background, or of leaving school at an early age.
Using information about this aspect of a person’s background has a subtle effect on the disability process. If the underlying disabling condition is only moderately severe, perhaps not quite enough to qualify for benefits, we can help to collect the records or develop the evidence that emphasizes vocational missing skills. This can be the information that tips the scale.
If we see a history of jobs with a heavy exertional level, we ask about literacy and English competency. If we see a 50-year-old man who perhaps has only done jobs with heavy lifting, we know to ask questions. Literacy limitations make it extremely unlikely that a person with a physical limitation will be able to find a job with a lower exertional level.
People develop good coping and compensation skills to hide the fact that they can’t read and write. There is a lot of shame attached to illiteracy, and it may take more than simple questions to discover the facts. Ask someone to fill out a simple form and see what happens. Many people with such limitations will have had a friend fill out all the Social Security application forms for them, and so Social Security never suspects a literacy issue. Eligibility for disability benefits from Social Security opens the door to a range of vocational services that includes education. A person can theoretically go all the way through college without cost as part of vocational rehabilitation programs.