Social Security Administration Finalizes New Rules for Evaluating Visual Disorders

On April 29, 2013, new rules for how the Social Security Administrations treats visual disorders will take effect.  The changes are purposed with both clarifying the evaluation of visual disorders and assessing claims in a more timely fashion.  The new rules (published here: also list a number of public comments that were submitted to the SSA during a preliminary period after the rules’ proposal—as well as the agency’s responses to those comments and whether the suggestions were accepted or rejected.

For example, one commenter recommended modifying the behavioral criteria used when evaluating the visual ability of preverbal children.  The commenter suggested keying this evaluation to the child’s ability or inability to follow a one-inch toy from one foot away.  But the SSA declined to adopt the suggestion, instead asserting that the current treatment under the regulations was sufficient.

Alternatively, another commented suggested modifying the language used in explaining why certain types of lenses are better or worse at testing visual acuity.  In reply, the phrase “because they significantly reduce the visual field” has been removed from the SSA’s guidance on telescopic lenses.

More broadly, the rules lay out exactly what visual disorders are and how they are evaluated.

“Visual disorders are abnormalities of the eye, the optic nerve, the optic tracts, or the brain that may cause a loss of visual acuity or visual fields.  A loss of visual acuity limits your ability to distinguish detail, read, or do fine work.  A loss of visual fields limits your ability to perceive visual stimuli in the peripheral extent of vision.”

The subsequent rules and regulations are incredibly detailed and specific (they, for example, explain the SSA’s use of cycloplegic refraction to evaluate visual disorders and, also, clarify that the visual field efficiency determined by kinetic perimetry is comparable to the visual field mean deviation or defect).  They include modifications to the 2006 final rules that are based on experience and evidence.  And, hopefully, they will help the process be easier and fairer for all.