SSA Defines Disability

An Advocate's Guide To Surviving The SSI System
Barbara E. Lybarger & Neil Onerheim   1985
ref. # 16-02-BK-01


    To be disabled, a person must meet the following requirements:
    • An individual shall be considered disabled if
      • - unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of
      • which can be expected to result in death or
      • which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.

Sequential Evaluation Of Disability

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) is defined as work activity that consists of significant physical or mental duties, or a combination of both, which are productive in nature.

To determine if work is "substanial", SSA evaluates the nature of the work, how well the person performs at the job, whether the work is done under special conditions, and the time spent in work.

The SSA will ordinarily determine that an applicant has performed SGA if your earnings have averaged more than $1,0000. per month (for 2010).

The reverse is the SSA will determine that the applicant has not engaged in SGA if your earnings averaged less than $720. per month (for 2010).
(See: Definition of SGA and Newest SGA amounts)

If an individual is engaged in SGA, the Law requires a finding of "not disabled" regardless of the claimant's medical condition, age, or work experience.
(See: Evaluation Factors)

Severe Impairment

A "Severe Impairment" is one which significantly limits the ability of the claimant to do basic work activities.

These include impairments to walking; standing; sitting; lifting; pushing; pulling; reaching; carrying; handling; seeing; hearing; speaking; understanding; carrying out; and remembering simple instructions; using judgement; responding appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and the usual work situations; and dealing with changes in a routine work setting.

Listed Impairments are physical or mental conditions which are so severe that SSA has determined the persons suffering from those impairments are determined to be "disabled" without further inquiry.

The Listing Of Impairments are published in Appenxix I of Subpart P of Part 404 of 20 C.F.R. They describe specific conditions and the level of severity that the condition must meet.

Several include lists of specific clinical tests results required for a determination of "disability".

Residual Functional Capacity

"Residual Functional Capacity" (RFC) is the measure SSA uses to determine relative "disability". It is measured in a person's ability to lift and carry certain weights.

Based on these measurements, the claimant is determined to be able to do: Sedentary, Light, Mediun, Heavy, or Very Heavy Work.

After evaluating the objective medical evidence in a case involving exertional limitations, DDS determines the degree of physical ability retained by the claimant despite his limitations.

The claimant's RFC is also evaluated to determine whether or not further physical limits exists which are caused by an impairment including such activities as:

  • seeing, hearing, sitting, walking, grasping, pushing and pulling of arm controls, fine manipulation, use of legs and feet, bending, squatting, crawling, climbing, and reaching, along with restrictions of activities involving unprotected hights, being around moving machinery, exposure to marked changes in temperature and humidity, driving automotive equipment and exposure to dust, fumes, and gases.

  • In cases involving "disability" based on mental impairments or other "Non-Exertional Limitations", SSA evaluates the mental demands of past relevant work and determines whether the claimant has the ability to meet these mental demands.
    (See: The GRID)

    • Lifting no more than 10 lbs. at a time and occasionally lifting or carring articlles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools. Occasional walking and standing may be required.
    • Lifting no more than 20 lbs. maximally and lifting or carrying up to 10 lbs. frequently.

      Even when only small weights are lifted, work is "light" when it requires a good deal of walking or standing or involves sitting most of the time with some pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls.

    • Lifting no more than 50 lbs. maximally, and lifting or carrying up to 25 lbs. frequently.
    • Lifting of no more than 100 lbs., and frequently lifting or carrying of up to 50 lbs.
    Very Heavy
    • Lifting of more than 100 lbs. and frequent lifting or carrying of up to 50 lbs.

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