Close Menu


The Trump administration is considering a new rule that bars a claimant’s inability to speak English as a factor in the disability review process. This is one of several cuts to the disability program that President Trump is pursuing as part of his assault on disability benefits. Or, what Trump considers to be the “welfare” state. This cut is happening despite the fact that disability benefits are not welfare. No one receives disability benefits simply because they do not speak English.

Part of the disability claims process involves evaluating whether a claimant can switch to a new line of work that would accommodate their disability. This would require them to learn new skills.  The evaluation considers not just a person’s physical or mental impediments, but also their age, work history, education level, and the availability of suitable jobs. In most parts of the United States, the inability to communicate in English poses an insurmountable barrier to work for an older, unskilled, impaired individual who would be affected by this proposed rule.


The new rule, set for final publication, eliminates the “inability to communicate in English” when evaluating a claimant’s education level. The SSA states that non-English speakers are generally more successful than they used to be in the U.S. labor market. The SSA claims the claimant’s are more educated than their lack of English implies. They also claim the criteria is used too much by people living in Puerto Rico. Obviously, such a believe is racist.

In a statement to the Huffington Post, the SSA called factoring English skills an “outdated and inequitable policy” that the agency has wanted to undo for years. This is despite the fact that most disability claims are denied. The number filed each year, and overall caseloads, have been declining since 2013. But Republicans still believe too many undeserving people get benefits.

The SSA considers “education to determine if someone’s health conditions prevent work.” But, the SSA believes the ability to communicate in English is no longer a good measure of educational attainment or the ability to work. They believe this because the Social Security’s rules were issued more than 40 years ago,” an agency spokesman said in an email to the Huffington Post.

The SSA cited a 2015 Social Security inspector general report that found 244 instances of disability awards to Puerto Ricans that factored lack of Englishfrom 2011 to 2013. The Trump administration said there were 777 such cases in 2016. Democrats and disability experts call the discrepancy in the number of cases over the years another problem with the proposed rule.

SSI claim and inability to speak English


Congressional Democrats argue the rule comments show why the SSA should not finalize the rule. “Commenters included 157 national or regional organizations who oppose the proposal, and only one in support,” Democrats wrote in a letter signed by Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Rep. Richard Neal (Mass.). The lone supportive comment from an organization came from the Opportunity Solutions Project. They are a little-known conservative advocacy group that supports restrictions on social programs like disability benefits. “By itself, the inability to communicate in English is not a disability”they wrote. And, they said it should not be a relevant factor in the disability determination process.

Clearly, the Opportunity Solutions Project misread the law. Inability to speak English goes to the opportunity to learn new skills and hence a new job. If a claimant cannot speak or read English, how can they learn new skills in the workplace? The proposed new rule demonstrates the SSA is in the midst of an effort to revamp the GRID Rules. This approach could seriously harm disabled people.

The SSA’S reasoning regarding education is as follows:  high school education and above means abilities in reasoning, arithmetic, and language skills acquired through formal schooling at a 12th grade level or above.  The SSA believes that someone with these educational abilities can do semi-skilled through skilled work. The SSA also considers whether there is recent education that provides for entry into skilled work. If the claimant recently completed education, the SSA does not consider the claimant to be disabled.[21]


Limited education means a middle school education. These skills do not allow a claimant to do most of the complex job duties of semi-skilled or skilled jobs.  The SSA generally considers a claimant with a 7th grade through the 11th grade education to have a limited education.

Marginal education means ability in reasoning, arithmetic, and language skills needed to do simple, unskilled jobs.  We generally consider an individual with formal schooling at a 6th grade level or less to have a marginal education.

Illiteracy means the inability to read or write. The SSA considers a claimant illiterate if she cannot read or write a simple message. This is true even though she may be able to sign her name. Generally, we expect an illiterate individual to have little or no formal schooling.

The SSA rules consider inability to communicate in English an education category. The reason they do this is because the ability to speak, read, and understand English is generally learned in school.[25]  The SSA’s old rules state that because English is the dominant language of the USA, it may be difficult for someone who does not speak English to do a job. Even if a person has a great education from another country, she may still have difficulty speaking another language. Therefore, under the current rules, the SSA considers a claimant’s ability to communicate in English when they evaluate what work, if any, he can do.


Based on the organization of education categories in the current grid rules, an individual who is unable to communicate in English may be considered “illiterate or unable to communicate in English” or under the broader category of “limited or less” or “marginal or none,” depending on the individual’s age and residual functional capacity.

The earliest point at which English language proficiency can make a difference in disability determination is the age of 45. In other words, the “inability to communicate in English” education category makes no difference to the outcome of disability determination for  young claimant’s. The GRID rules are based on the idea that the inability to communicate in English does not pose a significant vocational limitation to a younger individual, because their young age gives them an advantage in adjusting to other work.


Cannon Disability thinks the new rules are racist. The majority of immigrants who come to the USA learn English and work. The claimant’s who do not speak English are limited by a lack of education. If you are older than 50 and have disabilities, the SSA should consider your inability to communicate in English.

Call or contact Cannon Disability Law for help with your disability claim. You can contact us for free and we will review your claim to see if we can help you. We offer a free consultation to everyone who calls. That means you can call us and ask us your questions. We will answer at no charge to you.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn
Contact Form Tab

Quick Contact Form