What Does it Legally Mean to Have a Disability?

If you want to apply for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA), first you need to be legally disabled. Otherwise, you will not be able to qualify for benefits under either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). But what does it mean to have a disability, in the legal sense, and how does that impact your ability to get SSDI or SSI benefits?

What is a Disability?

In legal terms, a disability refers to any physical or psychological condition that substantially impairs your ability to work or perform basic tasks. This could mean having difficulty performing the duties of your job, even with reasonable accommodations from your employer. It could also mean having difficulty doing things like cooking, cleaning, or dressing or undressing yourself.

What Conditions Qualify as Disabilities?

There is no hard definition of what constitutes a disability. The primary determination is not what condition you are diagnosed with, but rather how badly it impairs your ability to function in your daily life. Someone with a severe spinal injury that impairs their ability to walk might not be considered disabled because they are able to take care of themselves with the assistance of a wheelchair. On the other hand, someone with an anxiety disorder might be considered disabled if it is severe enough to keep them from going outside to work or shop for food.

In theory, this means that just about any medical condition could be considered disabling if it was severe enough. In practical terms, though, this means that many people with diagnosed medical conditions, even potentially severe ones, may not qualify as disabled according to the law. This is true even if your condition is only manageable due to medical treatment, since SSDI and SSI benefits are only for those whose conditions are otherwise unmanageable.

Who Determines if You Have a Disability?

    Technically speaking, it is not the SSA that determines your disability status, at least not directly. Nor can you get a disability assessment from your private physician. Instead, an assessment must be performed by Disability Determination Services (DDS), a state-run agency that performs the assessment on behalf of SSA. If you attempt to get a disability assessment from anyone aside from a DDS medical examiner, you will not be able to get SSDI or SSI benefits.

    There is a list of medical conditions the DDS uses to assess disability, known as the Green Book. This book is cross-referenced during the process of examining someone’s medical conditions to determine if their symptoms match accepted modern definitions of one or more disabilities. However, you can still potentially qualify as having a disability even if your condition does not exactly match what is in the Green Book.

What Happens if You Are Not Considered Disabled?

Anyone who does not get assessed as being disabled will not get their SSDI or SSI benefits. However, getting turned down due to a DDS assessment is not necessarily the end of the line. Before you give up, you should contact an attorney experienced with handling issues related to Social Security disability benefits, who can advise you on your options and help you to appeal the decision.

If you or a loved one need assistance applying for SSDI or SSI benefits, it is important that you seek the guidance of an experienced Social Security Disability benefits lawyer. The lawyers at Sullivan & Kehoe, LLP have over 50 years of combined experience between its attorneys and are available to you or your loved one in obtaining Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income benefits. To schedule a consultation with our New York Social Security Disability benefits lawyers, call (631) 823-7155.

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