How Does the Social Security Administration Define Disability?

October 6, 2015

Social Security Disability is a benefit program that pays only for total disability. Under Social Security Administration rules, you are considered to be disabled if:



  • You are unable to do the work you did before
  • The SSA decides that your medical condition prevents you from doing other kinds of work; and
  • Your disability has lasted or is expected to last at least one year or is likely to result in death

So, nothing less than 100 percent disability according to SSA rules will qualify an individual to be approved for Social Security Disability benefits.

An individual must have a severe mental or physical condition that prevents them from engaging in substantial and gainful activity (SGA) in order to qualify for SSD benefits. SGA is work that generates a certain dollar amount per month. According to SSA guidelines, that monthly amount for 2015 for non-blind applicants is $1,090, and $1,820 for blind applicants. When a person is working and earning at least up to the minimal SGA, the Social Security Administration considers this to be evidence that the individual is not totally disabled.

While the SSA guidelines stipulate that you must be totally disabled, you are permitted to work to some extent. If you are working part-time at a minimum wage job may still be able to qualify for disability benefits. Several issues including your level of education, work experience and age can be factored in to determine if an individual may be expected to earn $1,090 per month.

Proving permanent disability

In order to prove that you have a permanent disability you must either:

Suffer from a condition that is listed in the SSA’s “Blue Book,” or list of impairments or be evaluated under the following five-step process:

  1. Are you working? If you earn more than $1,090 per month you will generally not be considered disabled.
  2. Is your condition “severe?” Your physical or mental condition must interfere with work-related activities.
  3. Is your condition found on the SSA’s list of disabling conditions? When your condition is not on the list, the SSA will have to decide if the severity of your condition is of equal severity to a medical condition that can be found on the list. If it is, you will be considered disabled. The SSA also has Compassionate Allowances, which allow certain cases to qualify for disability benefits as soon as a diagnosis is confirmed for diseases such as acute leukemia, pancreatic cancer and ALS.
  4. Can you do the work you did previously? If your condition does not interfere with your ability to do the work you have done previously you will not be approved.
  5. Are you able to do any other type of work? The Social Security Administration will consider your medical condition, your age, education level, work experience and any transferrable skills to see if you might be able to adjust to doing another type of work. If you cannot adjust to other types of work, your claim may be approved. If you are able to adjust to another type of work you claim will be denied.

Find out more about how to qualify for Social Security Disability today. Contact Larry Pitt & Associates to speak with a Philadelphia Social Security Disability lawyer about your needs. We serve clients in Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties and throughout the surrounding areas.