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Butte SSDI Lawyer Explains the SSA Standard for Hearing Loss

What is Social Security’s standard for hearing loss?

As with all medical conditions that automatically qualify for monthly compensation benefits under the Social Security Administration’s impairment listing, hearing loss cannot be short-term, partial, or restored through the use of a hearing aid.

Only those with profound hearing loss or deafness are eligible according to the standard. An applicant will need to be diagnosed through one of the following exams:

  • Audiometry: Without use of a hearing aid, qualifying applicants will have:

    • An average hearing threshold sensitivity for air conduction in their better ear of 90 decibels or worse;

    • Bone conduction hearing threshold in the better ear must be 60 decibels or worse;

    • Hearing loss is calculated by averaging the applicant’s hearing range at 500 hertz, 1,000 hertz, and 2,000 hertz.

  • Word Recognition: Without use of a hearing aid, qualifying applicants will be unable to repeat more than 40% of the words in a standardized word recognition test.


An otolaryngologist or qualified audiologist must make the diagnosis, and a full otological workup is usually required.

It’s possible that a disability examiner at Disability Determination Services (DDS) will schedule you for a consultative examination with an audiologist. In this follow-up exam, you’ll be given an auditory evoked response test, measuring brainwave responses to tones, to further confirm test results.

What if I have cochlear implants?

Applicants with cochlear implants in one or both ears automatically qualify for twelve months of disability benefits starting with the implantation procedure. Benefits are awarded whether or not the cochlear implants are successful. After 12 months, if word recognition in a “Hearing in Noise Test” is 60% or less, compensation will continue.

What if I don’t meet the standard?

It’s possible to successfully obtain benefits for hearing loss even if you don’t meet the standard, but you will need to gather a sufficient amount of strong evidence demonstrating that your hearing impairment prevents you from working—such as a Residual Functional Capacity evaluation from your physician.

Social Security will look for tangible proof that your hearing problem significantly impacts your ability to:

  • Follow instructions
  • Communicate
  • Reliably perform typical workplace tasks


There are many jobs that require the ability to quickly identify sounds and words, such as anything involving machinery or telephone communication. However, there are several employment options where hearing is less important; a vocational expert may direct you to one of these.

If you have a hearing impairment that is severe but does not meet the SSA standard, consider working with a Butte disability lawyer while building your initial application for disability benefits. Call Ledgerwood Law at 888-761-7383 today.

Thomas Ledgerwood
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