Aug 9, 2018

SSA Wants To Remove Inability To Communicate In English As Factor In Disability Determination

     The Social Security Administration has asked the Office of Management and Budget to authorize the publication of proposed regulations on Removing Inability to Communicate in English as an Education Category. If approved by OMB, the proposed changes would be published in the Federal Register and the public could comment. Social Security could then consider the comments before asking OMB to authorize the publication of final regulations. Here's Social Security's summary of the proposal:
We propose to revise existing disability evaluation rules relating to the ability to communicate in English.  Specifically, we will clarify that an inability to communicate in English is not tantamount to illiteracy or inadequate verbal communication.  Rather, an inability to communicate adequately verbally or in writing in any language will be the effective standard.   The proposed revisions will reflect current research, analysis of our disability program data, Federal agency data about workforce participation, and comments we received from the public in response to an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
     If you think this proposal is based upon "research" instead of rampant Republican racism and nativism, you're naive. Inability to communicate in English remains a serious obstacle to work particularly when added to other obstacles caused by illness.
     This is one of several proposals that may not advance if Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives in November.


Anonymous said...

I'm not a Republican or nativist, but I support this. Consideration of language ability should be taken out of the grids, at the very least (so should education-- what does it matter than you have a marginal or limited education if you can do unskilled work, particularly if you have worked in the past). At most, I would support consideration of inability to speak English as something the VE could consider in certain job markets where there aren't a lot of jobs for English speakers. But there are few immigrants in those job markets anyway. Any place that has a large immigrant population has jobs for those people, otherwise they wouldn't be there. The VE could also testify about, for example, whether there are sedentary jobs in that market for non-English speakers.

Anonymous said...

You do this man, you do this. You present one side with absolutely no mention of any counter argument like the Agency is just constantly totally insane.

It's a serious obstacle except for when you live in Puerto Rico, yet the same rule applies there and improperly drives the pay rate. Additionally, its fairly difficult to prove which languages someone speaks. Once someone asserts they are unable to communicate in English, the Agency has few tools to rebut that allegation when in fact they may be bilingual or they may have partial but not full English fluency.

I'm mostly OK with the current rule if it didn't apply to claims filed in PR or to residents of PR, but of course there would be some legal issues with that proposal.

By the way, from a policy point of view, we compare your limitations to any job that exists in the national economy regardless of whether the job actually exists in your area. The policy promotes the idea of the claimant moving to an area of the country where the job exists that they can perform. Following the logic, shouldn't we infer that Spanish speakers could move to PR, assuming they could perform jobs but for their language gap. Is PR not part of the national economy?

From a more pessimistic view, the policy promotes the Trump immigration idea/tone. That crowd, and probably a majority of the country, want legal foreign language speaking immigrants to assimilate to the culture and learn the language. The current rule is likely viewed as rewarding someone for coming here and not speaking the language, failing to understand or not caring that its actually about a vocational consideration.

Anonymous said...

btw, If I'm you the most concerning thing about this is the conformation that the policy shop is looking at the grids. Grids haven't changed in a long time and they're your bread and butter boss. Times are a changin friend, 50 feels pretty young nowadays especially to healthy white policymakers in DC with health insurance.

Tom Cruise is an individual of advanced age.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Charles for your reliably rabidly partisan take. Actually what this proposal would do is stop giving non-English speakers who are nevertheless perfectly fluent and literate in the dominant language of their local labor market (e.g., Puerto Rico) an undeserved 5-year advantage under the grid rules. And it would continue to allow ALJs to recognize inability to read/speak English in claimants' RFCs as they do today and, as 0812 says, let the VE weigh in on the impact.

Anonymous said...

Scared white people are funny

Anonymous said...

The inability to communicate in English is NOT and impediment to employment. Especially in certain parts of the country, Florida, Texas, PR, California, New Mexico, Arizona.

The idea of someone with a PhD who cannot speak English as illiterate is absurd.

In fact, inability to speak Spanish is more often an impediment to employment in America now in some industries.

Additionally, hard to consider when people have routinely been in the country 20-35 years and all of sudden can't speak any English.

Anonymous said...


The proposed rule is absurd because ALJs at hearings are not equipped and don't have the time to do a detailed analysis of a claimant's degree of fluency (or lack of such) in spoken and written language. Even if the exact degree of fluency could be determined (which it wouldn't) I also doubt VEs are equipped to give us accurate numbers on jobs given that information. It would invite rampant speculation in vocational testimony and disability decision making.

SSA needs to realize that solutions like the grids are good, especially when it is facing enormous backlogs and lengthy wait periods. Every time SSA passes a rule that increases the complexity and number disputed issues it contributes adversely to backlogs and wait times. What has SSA been doing lately? Changing the rules in ways that bloat claims files (all evidence rule, other rules requiring multiple new additional notices), increase disputed issues and claims (5 day rule), and now they propose a new rule that adds issues which ALJs and VEs are ill-equipped to handle and which will lengthen hearing times and increase the number of appeals. If I did not know better, I would surmise from its recent rule changes that SSA is trying to increase claims backlogs and wait times.

Anonymous said...


If there is no instance documented in the record which could suggest a claimant has English literacy, I do not believe it is unreasonable to take the claimant at their word. That might seem overly claimant-friendly, but the Administration does do this in a number of areas (work as actually performed, claimant's age, educational level, etc.).

As to whether it would be reasonable to conclude a Spanish speaking non-Puerto Rican resident should be expected to move to Puerto Rico, not really. Work must exist in either the claimant's resident region, or several regions in the national economy. Really it would be more logical to get rid of the claimant's resident region issue entirely and just look at the several regions standard (which is in practice what occurs, as VEs generally only give national job figures). This change would be easier said than done, given the resident region/several region language is a creature of statute (42 USC § 423(d)(2)(A)). Still, it would certainly be an improvement.

Anonymous said...

this has been in the works since the Obama administration

Anonymous said...

@10:20 "The idea of someone with a PH.D. who can not speak English is absurd".

Actually, I had a client who had a law degree from his Muslim country which he fled because he is a Christian before he could ever practice law. He came here, worked in a gas station for many years until he could no longer work. He was extremely well educated but his english was very poor.

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to argue that language actually ties into one's medical disability as envisioned by the law. It medically should not matter at all.

The reality is, unless the non-English speaking resident migrated or was raised in a common transplant city, not being able to speak English ties your employment prospects to only those who share the language. This immediately discredits any VE because the numbers they spout that were cooked to begin with cannot possibly be broken down. Any person speaking Urdu in Dearborn, Michigan has a near zero chance of employment while physically or mentally impaired than someone who speaks Farsi. Same goes for those who speak Chinese in Minneapolis as opposed to Somali.

No way a non-Spanish speaking impaired worker in Plano TX would have a chance of employment, even in their related field.

Anonymous said...

First of all, I thought you would be above a "racism" comment. Secondly, one very serious obstacle to employment is the inability to speak Spanish. That's right, I look at job postings all the time and it is amazing how man require you to be able to speak Spanish, and so if my disability is ever denied, perhaps I will just say that I can't speak Spanish!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

This will completely destroy the economy of Puerto Rico.

Anonymous said...

I have always wondered what "Assimilate to American Culture" is. What is American Culture? Is it the dazzling young urbanite in Chicago, LA or New York, a sheep rancher in Wyoming or cattle rancher in Oklahoma? Is American Culture found in NOLA or Minneapolis? Is it y'all or how you doin'? Is American culture the struggle and violence of inner city existence or the dull torture of suburbia complete with black sock and Birkenstock? Is it Evangelical, AOG, Lutheran, Catholic, Jewish, Atheist? Does American Culture hunt deer in the fall with a gun or protest against open carry? Is it male dominated or female lead? And who decides in American Culture who has control over the rights of ones own body? Is it equality for all as long as they are just a little bit less equal than me and mine?

What is all encompassing American Culture?