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Language barriers could be a factor in disability benefits

There are many reasons why a person in Pennsylvania may be considered disabled. When it comes to a person's ability to work, the very language they speak could become a factor.

Over the past few years in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, hundreds of applicants received Social Security disability benefits in part because they were not fluent in English. This is because under the current regulations, if a person cannot converse fluently in English, they may be less employable, despite how experienced or educated they may be, as the language barrier adversely affects their ability to work.

As of the last U.S. Census taken, 95 percent of the residents of Puerto Rico ages five years or older did not speak English in their homes. Furthermore, almost 85 percent believed that they could not converse in English "very well."

Of course, applicants still must meet the federal standards for being disabled in order to receive benefits. From 2011 to 2013, over 200 Puerto Ricans obtained disability benefits under the current guidelines, according to auditors.

The inspector general would like to see the Social Security Administration evaluate the current rules in order to determine how many people received benefits in part due to their inability to speak English fluently. The SSA is in agreement and stated that there may be a rule change based on further research and information gathered from the public and experts.

While employability is certainly one factor the SSA considers when determining whether someone is eligible to receive disability benefits, there are other factors to consider, as well. Social Security is a multi-faceted program containing various eligibility requirements that can be difficult to meet. If an applicant needs help applying for benefits, he or she can speak with an attorney to learn more.

Source: The Washington Post, "Puerto Ricans who can't speak English qualify as disabled for Social Security," Josh Hicks, April 10, 2015

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