How Disabled do you have to be to get Social Security Disability?
Someone recently sent in a comment and stated that someone they know receives disability who A) exercises, B) does some volunteer art teaching, and C) helps with a children's group. Their opinion was that this individual should not be considered disabled based on this level of activity.
I run into type of sentiment quite frequently. And it is understandable due to people's misperceptions regarding disability and, particularly, their complete misunderstanding of how the social security disability and SSI disability programs work.
Before I discuss the SSD and SSI programs in this context, let me point out that I once had a friend in college who was confined to a wheelchair as a result of spina bifida. Wheelchair confined, taking college courses. Was he disabled? He certainly had an impairment that resulted in functional limitations. And many people, simply looking at him, would have assumed that he was disabled. But that's not how the social security administration awards disability benefits. A person's appearance, or appearance of limited functionality, has no bearing on whether or not they will be awarded benefits. For adults, disability benefits are awarded on the basis of whether or not a person can engage in work activity at the SGA, or substantial gainful activity, level. For minor-age children, disability benefits are awarded on the basis of whether or not the individual can engage in age-appropriate activities.
If work and income is not an issue (meaning the individual is either not working at all, or is working but is not earning at least a substantial and gainful income), then a person who has a prescribed, required need for the use of a wheelchair will qualify for disability benefits. However, even a person who is confined to the use of a wheelchair for ambulation will not be able to receive disability benefits from SSA if they can work and receive earnings at the SGA level.
So, would my friend, after leaving college, have been considered disabled by social security? It would have depended on whether or not he was able to work and earn SGA-level income. And, here, it should be plain to see, is one clear reality about the social security disability and SSI disability programs: the awarding of benefits is not just a medical issue but a vocational issue. Which is exactly why older individuals who file for disability are given more consideration than younger individuals (the reasoning is that older individuals will have a harder time transitioning to new types of employment for a variety of reasons).
Now back to the commenter who described the individual receiving benefits. That person exercises, does volunteer art teaching, and helps with a children's group. Well, there are individuals with profound physical and mental impairments that could do the same, but, nonetheless, would be unable to work in a structured work environment that required them to keep showing up for work regardless of whether or not they were experiencing exacerbations of severe pain, inflammatory problems, respiratory distress, neurological deficit, or mental decompensation.
There seems to be a not-well-thought-out attitude that, to be legitimately disabled, a person must either be totally mentally incoherent or absolutely physically unable to engage in the most basic daily activities. But that's not the nature of most disabling illnesses and conditions. Most impairments reduce a person's ability to function and engage in normal, daily activities, such as work activity. And, from the social security administration's perspective, the way to measure to whether or not a person should receive disability benefits is to evaluate whether or not their severe mental or physical impairment (or combination of impairments) has reduced their functional ability to work and earn a substantial and gainful income for at least 12 months.
Return to the Social Security Disability SSI Benefits Blog
Will I qualify for social security disability?
Is there a short term Social Security Disability Benefit?
What is SSI Disability Pay Based On?
Social Security Disability Eligibility - what gets considered Part 1
Social Security Disability Requirements and Eligibility Criteria
Will you get Social Security Disability if you can't do your old job?
How Long does it Take to Hear from Social Security About When my Benefits will Take Effect?
File for Disability as soon as possible