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What Classifies as a Disability in Social Security?

What Classifies as a Disability in Social Security?
Image by Markus Winkler from Pixabay

Living life with a disability can be difficult at times as there may be certain essential activities that they simply can’t participate in, from competing in sports to joining the workforce. While there may be a plethora of other fun hobbies, activities, and workarounds that those with disabilities can use, not being able to work is a massive hurdle to navigate around. This is why there are Social Security benefits that some of these people may be able to claim.

Who can claim these benefits, though? This is what this article will discuss. We’ll explain what the Social Security Administration’s definition of a disability is, the questions you need to answer to qualify, and a few of the special situations that may allow you to qualify even if you don’t fit the traditional definition. 

Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of how millions navigate life with Social Security disability benefits and what they had to do to reach their current position.

Defining Disabilities

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a disability as “a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.” 

This is a very broad definition, which has led to the Social Security Administration, or SSA for short, to create their own definition for the term. If they didn’t do so, they’d run out of money quickly and would leave even more without the assistance they desperately need. 

However, this definition isn’t expressed as it may normally be, and there’s no paragraph or sentence that provides an in-depth explanation. You need to not only answer the five questions posed by the SSA but also meet the three extra requirements they list. 

If you can not engage in substantial gainful activity, are unable to either continue with your previous line of work or switch to another line of work, and your condition will last for a minimum of a year or end in death, then you can move on to answering the five questions.

Essential Questions to Answer

There are five questions that you must answer to determine whether you’re eligible for Social Security disability benefits. If your answer is outside of the consideration criteria for all but one of the questions below, then you’re deemed not to have a qualifying disability. 

The first question sounds simple at first: are you currently working? If you answer no, then move to question two. If yes, then do you make more than $1,470 or $2,460 if you’re blind? If not, then move to the next question; if yes, then you do not qualify for SSA disability benefits.

The second question asks how severe your condition is. Does your condition impair your ability to do some of the basic work-related activities? If so, then you can move to question three. 

This question is the only one where an answer outside of its parameters does not lead to your case being dismissed immediately. Here, your condition is compared to a list of medical conditions, and if your condition is listed, then you receive the benefits. You move to question four otherwise.

Question four is probably the most simple one on the list: does your current condition prevent you from doing the work you did previously? You move on to question five if it does. The fifth and final question considers what work you could get with your condition. Everything from your age to your skills and education are taken into consideration here. You’ll only receive benefits if it’s deemed that you can not perform other work. 

While these questions apply to many situations, there are some special cases where someone may receive benefits without needing this process.

Blind or Low Vision

To be considered legally blind, your eye with the best vision must not be able to be corrected to 20/200, or your field of vision must be less than twenty degrees. Those who fall under this definition can receive the SS disability benefits by default unless they earn the amount of money discussed earlier. 

However, the SSA understands that blindness doesn’t mean that you can’t see anything; it’s a spectrum where someone may be able to see light or shadows or even read large text. Low vision is therefore also considered and is given special rules such as the increased limit on earnings. You’ll be considered for these benefits so long as your vision negatively impacts your ability to work.

Children With Disabilities

There are also special considerations for children with disabilities. If your child is either under the age of eighteen or is eighteen but is still in school, then they will receive the SS benefits. 

These benefits are received on the parent’s Social Security record, which may continue as long as certain requirements are met. They must have gotten the disability before they turned twenty-two, be over the age of eighteen, not be married, and meet the adult definition of disabled. One major difference between those who qualify for the Disabled Adult Child benefits is that they never need to have held a job as the payment is based on their parent’s record.

Other Special Cases

There are other special cases as well, and one of these is the benefits for surviving spouses. Suppose a widowed or previously divorced spouse’s current or ex-significant other passes away. In that case, if they are between the ages of fifty and sixty and have a condition that is classified as a disability, then they can make an appointment to receive these benefits. 

Keep in mind that these benefits can not be applied for online. Also, another important special case is for wounded warriors or service-disabled veterans.

Getting The Benefits You Deserve

As you may have guessed from reviewing everything we’ve covered here, receiving SS disability benefits can be complicated and stressful. Luckily, there are many law firms and lawyers who understand these requirements and may be able to help you file the paperwork and understand whether or not you qualify. 

If you need to file for these benefits, seriously consider hiring an attorney who specializes in Social Security disability law. They’ll be able to help you fill out all the paperwork and get you the money you need to live as comfortable a life as possible.

About the author

Steven Ly

Steven Ly is the Startup Program and Events Manager at TheNextHint Inc. She recruits rockstar startups for all TC events including Disrupt, meetups, Sessions, and more both domestically and internationally. Previously, she helped produce Dreamforce with Salesforce and Next '17 with Google. Prior to that, she was on the advertising teams at both Facebook and AdRoll, helping support advertisers in North America and helped grow those brands globally. Outside of work, Steven enjoys Flywheel, tacos, the 49ers, and adventuring around the globe.

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