Defining Disability

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In order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you must be found disabled under Social Security's definition. By law, Social Security has a very strict definition of who is considered disabled. To be found disabled:

You must have a severe impairment;

  • You must be unable to do substantial work because of your medical condition(s); and

  • Your medical condition(s) must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least one year, or expected to result in death.

For a child to be found disabled:

  • The child must have a physical or mental condition(s) that very seriously limits his or her activities; and 

  • The child's medical conditions must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least on year or result in death.

Some applicants have medical conditions that are so severe that their conditions obviously meet disability standards. To quickly identify and help these individuals, Social Security has a list of Compassionate Allowances, or conditions that they will qualify for benefits based on evaluation of minimal, official medical records. There are also 14 categories of "listed impairments," which describe specific medical criteria for carious impairments that will essentially result in an automatic disability determination, without the need to consider age, education, or work experience. Most types of illnesses, however, can vary form minor to severe. This makes defining disability tricky., as it depends on how badly the illness or disease has affected you.