The Social Security Administration has released the following information at https://www.ssa.gov/news/press/releases/2020/#2-2020-1
“Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul announced a new final rule today, modernizing an agency disability rule that was introduced in 1978 and has remained unchanged. The new regulation, “Removing the Inability to Communicate in English as an Education Category,” updates a disability rule that was more than 40 years old and did not reflect work in the modern economy. This final rule has been in the works for a number of years and updates an antiquated policy that makes the inability to communicate in English a factor in awarding disability benefits.
“It is important that we have an up-to-date disability program,” Commissioner Saul said. “The workforce and work opportunities have changed and outdated regulations need to be revised to reflect today’s world.”
A successful disability system must evolve and support the right decision as early in the process as possible. Social Security’s disability rules must continue to reflect current medicine and the evolution of work.
Social Security is required to consider education to determine if someone’s medical condition prevents work, but research shows the inability to communicate in English is no longer a good measure of educational attainment or the ability to engage in work. This rule is another important step in the agency’s efforts to modernize its disability programs.
In 2015, Social Security’s Inspector General recommended that the agency evaluate the appropriateness of this policy. Social Security owes it to the American public to ensure that its disability programs continue to reflect the realities of the modern workplace. This rule also supports the Administration’s longstanding focus of recognizing that individuals with disabilities can remain in the workforce.
The rule will be effective on April 27, 2020.”
To be clear, Social Security claimants were never able to receive disability due to the inability to communicate in English alone. However, it is certainly debatable whether language should be a factor in awarding disability as this program is meant to compensate people who have health problems that prevent sustained and gainful work. Nevertheless, I would take issue with the above comment that “research shows the inability to communicate in English is no longer a good measure of… the ability to engage in work.” Certainly, it is harder to obtain or keep a job if you cannot communicate in English. The potential job base for a non-English speaker is much smaller than it is for one who speaks English.
Before the above law, the inability to speak English was just one factor that could be considered in connection with any health-related alleged disabilities when determining whether a Social Security claimant could work. This law change will largely affect those over age 45. In previous posts, we have discussed the GRID Regulations. https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/cfr20/404/404-app-p02.htm. This is a concept that allows 50 years olds to be considered disabled if they cannot do their past work and are otherwise restricted to sedentary jobs. It also allows 55 year olds to be considered disabled if they cannot do their past work and are otherwise restricted to light level jobs. For those who do not communicate in English, a 45 year old could be treated like an English speaking 50 year old, and a 50 year old non-English speaker could be treated like an English speaking 55 year old.
In Akron, Ohio, non-English speakers account for an extremely small percentage of those applying for disability. However, we do have a rather sizable Nepali refugee population. In our area, it is likely that this law change will make it more difficult (but by no means impossible) for Nepali refugees to obtain disability. Accordingly, it is as vital as ever that the Nepali population in Akron continue going to their doctors and opening up to their doctors about their health-related limitations- especially if they are in the process of applying for disability.
If you are looking for help in a Social Security disability case or in an SSI case, please give one of our disability lawyers a call at 330-762-6474.