Qualifying for Disability Benefits in Puerto Rico Based on an Inability to Speak English

Date: 
Friday, April 3, 2015
Report Number: 
A-12-13-13062
Report Type: 
Audit Report
Office Affiliation: 

The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant qualifies for disability benefits. In claims that reach the last step in the process, adjudicators use medical-vocational guidelines (grids) developed in the 1970s to guide them in deciding a claimant’s physical and vocational abilities to adjust to work in the national economy.

When deciding a case under the grids, adjudicators evaluate a claimant’s physical capacity to work along with age, education, and work experience. The ability to speak, read, write, and understand English is considered an educational factor. A claimant’s inability to communicate in English can lessen the relevance of work experience and education, potentially making it more likely the claimant will receive disability benefits.

The objective of our audit was to analyze the effect of regulations requiring that disability adjudicators allow a disability claim based on a claimant’s inability to understand the English language for claimants residing in Puerto Rico.