Skip to Content

AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss


I am hoping this community can assist me/my brother with understanding SSDI/SSI financial eligibility guidelines for the self-employed blind.

As a child, my brother (now 42, resident of Maine) was diagnosed with Retinoschisis, a rare congenital disease. His eye sight has progressively deteriorated to the point wherehe is now considered legally blind by SSA's definition (20/200 visual acuity both eyes). Although he has never been able to obtain a driver's license due to his low vision, he has always worked to the extent he has been able to and will continue to do so.

Here's the problem: Although he qualifies medically, he was recently denied SSDI/SSI benefits due to his earnings level. I feel he may have been unjustly denied and am looking for advice from someone other than an SSA representative who may be familiar with SSA's eligibility guidelines for the blind. SSA's claims representative provided me with explanations that appear to be inconsistent with SSA's own on-line publications.

In a nutshell, my brother works as a self-employed carpenter in partnership with his best friend since childhood. The only reason he is able to work in this capacity is because his best friend assists him with job duties as needed (as well as transportation). My brother's 2010 self-employment NET income was $18,414 ($1,535/mo.). He anticipates 2011 income to be approximately the same and can only guesstimate 2012 income as the same (not knowing whether his vision and/or work volume will remain stable for the year.)

When speaking with SSA, my brother estimated he earns a GROSS average of $25/hour, 8 hours/day, 3 days a week. (I believe this figure is inflated as this would amount to a gross annual income of $31,200 whereas I believe it was closer to $23,000.)

SSA denied benefits because it appears he is engaging in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). They stated, "We consider the nature of your job duties, the skills and experience you need to do the job, and how much you actually earn. Usually, we consider work to be substantial and gainful if monthly earnings, after allowable deductions, average over $1010 a month (or $1000 per month before January 1, 2012). If you are self-employed, we may give more consideration to the kind and value of your work, including your part in the management of the business, than to your income alone. Your work now may be different than before your disability began. It may not be as hard to do and your pay may be less. However, we may still consider your work to be substantial and gainful under our rules."

In conversation with the SSA claims representative, I referred him to the SSA web site's 2012 Redbook (p.42); POMS DI 10515.005; and SSR 83-34 (p. 2 & 10). On behalf of my brother, my defense is as follows:

* SGA for the blind is based solely on earnings (not on comparability and worth of work tests as the claims representative insists).
* SGA is based on net income (not gross income as he insists).
* SGA is not used as a factor to determine SSI eligibility (he insists that it is and further stated a person cannot be eligible for SSI if denied under SSDI).
* Furthermore, the SGA for the blind is $1640 (2011) & $1690 (2012); not the $1000/$1010 he quoted in his denial letter.

The claims representative basically dug his heels in the sand and is certain, after checking with a colleague, he made the correct decision (regardless of what the above-referenced documents state). I feel his decision was based on his flawed knowledge and understanding of the guidelines for the blind (and possibly self-employed).

We can proceed with an appeal, however, this will only prolong the process and I am afraid his appeal may be reviewed by one of the claim representative's close colleagues who, in turn, will just agree with him.

If SSI averages income over a period of time, I understand my brother may not qualify for SSI. However, if income is calculated on a monthly basis, he may (some months he has had very little to no work/income). However, I feel in my heart of hearts that he is eligible for SSDI.

He lives alone with his teenage son and is struggling to make ends meet and keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. The bottom line is, if he chose not to work, he would be approved for SSDI/SSI benefits. Because he chooses to work, he is being penalized. If this is how it works, something is definitely wrong with the system.

On behalf of my brother, I am seeking whatever knowledge/advice/assistance this community is able to provide.

Thank you!

There are currently 4 replies

Sort Replies Oldest to Newest


If you do decide to go forward with an appeal, you can find out more information about the appeals process on this page:

I'm hoping that this will all work out ok for your brother.


Unfortunately, if you work at any job (self-employed or not) and earn over $1,010 per month ($1,640 for Blind) you will not be eligible for SSI or SSDI benefits. It looks like he is just below the 1,780 level. Thus, even if he qualifies, the amount he receive for SSI/SSDI will be very low due to his current earnings.

Here is a list of questions, the SSA asks when evaluating someone's eligibility:


Unless you are of the age of retirement I would seeking help in winning a job somewhere. Working adds needed structure to your life and greater income potential than SSI.
Donald The Blind Webmaster
The US Blind Resource Directory


You are correct that he would be approved if he did not work for at least 6months. I know it is difficult to not work but that would be his only choice otherwise he should appeal. I know that if you recieveSSDi you can earn up to $ 1,750 dollars amonth before your SSdi can be affected I would talk to an attorney about the best way to go ahead . .

Log in to Post a Reply