What is a qualifying disability for social security disability purposes?

If you are injured, ill and unable to work you may be eligible for social security disability benefits under the disability insurance laws. However, the definition of disability under the social security administration is different than what you may think. It is a very strict, technical definition and is not designed for someone to easily fit into. The social security administration has a five-step process it uses to determine if you are disabled for purposes of receiving benefits. Let’s take a look at the criteria for a qualifying disability under social security:

Disability under social security

The social security administration considers you disabled if:

  • You cannot do the work you did before
  • You cannot adjust to new work because of your condition and;
  • Your disability has lasted for one year or is expected to last for at least one year or until death

Deciding whether you have a disability

The social security administration does not have a hard and fast rule for determining disability. A wide range of maladies and illnesses can qualify if they meet the administration’s criteria.

Here are is the step-by-step process the administration uses in determining if you are disabled

1. Are you working?

If you are currently working and earning more than $1,070 dollars a month then you will not be considered disabled. If you are not working, go to step 2.

2. Is your condition severe enough?

You condition must be severe enough to interfere with basic work related activities. If it does not, you will not be considered disabled. If your condition does interfere with work related activities, go to step 3.

3. Is your condition on the list of disabling conditions?

If you have a condition that is on the list of automatic disabling conditions you will receive your benefits without the administration weighing the severity of your illness. These are often life-threatening conditions.

Here are some examples of automatically qualifying illnesses:
  • Heart transplant
  • Schizophrenia
  • Chronic diabetes
  • Lou Gehrig’s disease

If your condition is not on this list, which is far more extensive than the few examples shown above, go to step 4.

4. Can you do the work you did previously?

If your condition does not interfere with your ability to do the work that you previously did, your claim will be denied. If it does interfere, go to step 5.

5. Can you do any other type of work?

If you cannot do the work you did in the past the administration will determine if you are able to adjust to another type of work. The administration takes into account your age, skills, condition and other variables in determining if you are able to do another type of work. If you can adjust to a new job, your claim will be denied.


If you make it through the five-step gauntlet outlined by the social security administration you will receive social security disability benefits. However, qualification is far from automatic and the social security administration uses criteria that are different from many other laws in determining whether or not you are disabled. If you believe you may be eligible for social security disability benefits.[1]


[1] Disability Planner: How You Qualify For Social Security Disability Benefits, Social Security: Official Social Security Website (2014), http://www.ssa.gov/dibplan/dqualify.htm