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Meeting the Definition of Disability

Meeting the Definition of Disability

If you are unable to work because of an accident you suffered or a debilitating condition you experience, you may qualify for disability benefits through Social Security. Although you may consider yourself disabled, you will only receive benefits if you meet Social Security’s definition of disability.

According to Social Security, you are considered disabled if you cannot engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA) because of a physical or mental impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous 12 months or will result in your death. Generally, that means you cannot perform the work that you did before you became disabled, and you cannot adjust to a different kind of work because of the same disability.

Your mental or physical impairment must be medically-determinable. That means it must result from a psychological, physiological, or anatomical abnormality that can be proven by clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques that are accepted by the medical community; simply providing a statement that you experience certain symptoms will not be sufficient.

Your condition must significantly limit your ability to perform basic tasks, such as sitting, standing, lifting, walking, and remembering things for at least a full 12 months. If your disability is blindness, Social Security considers you legally blind if your vision cannot be corrected to better than 20/200 in the better eye or if your field of vision is 20 degrees or less, even with corrective lenses.

Social Security uses the Blue Book to determine eligibility for benefits. The book has different sections for each body system. Each body system has lists of disabling conditions that may apply to that system along with the criteria that must be met to qualify for benefits based on that disability. Many conditions fall under the Blue Book’s classifications, including many cancers, hearing and vision loss, organ transplants, autoimmune diseases, mental disorders, and traumatic brain injuries.

If you suffer from a mental disability, Social Security will try to assess whether you can maintain attention, follow instructions, interact with others appropriately, and respond to changes or hazards in the workplace. This assessment is called the residual functional capacity assessment.

Lastly, there are certain instances in which a child may also qualify as disabled and be entitled to benefits. If he or she suffers from a mental or physical impairment—or combination of impairments—that causes severe and marked functional limitations and that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months or result in the child’s death, he or she will meet Social Security’s definition of disability for a child.