What is disability according to Social Security Disability law?
Learn about disability as defined by the Social Security Administration and see how working while disabled fits into getting Social Security disability.
How Social Security Defines Disability
For adult claimants, including disabled adult children, the Social Security Administration, known as SSA, answers the question “What is disability?” with the following definition: “[Disability is] the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment 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.”
Work and Social Security Disability
As you see, the definition is made up of several requirements, but before we go into detail about what each part of the definition means, we’d like to point out that it is often difficult to tell whether or not work that you performed after the date you claim disability will prevent you from being approved. Sometimes the only way to know for sure is to file a claim; however, you may also find it helpful to talk with a lawyer who is experienced in Social Security Disability claims.
More about SSA’s Definition of Disability
Now for a closer look at Social Security’s definition of disability. The definition contains several special terms that have legal definitions. For example, substantial gainful activity, abbreviated as SGA, is work activity that the Social Security Administration determines is “substantial” and “gainful.”
“Gainful” work is work performed for pay or profit, or a type of work that is generally performed for compensation, or work that is intended to result in a profit, whether or not you have a profit. This means that “gainful” is not always defined just by the amount you earn. Substantial gainful activity is determined differently for employees, for self-employed individuals, and for the blind.
For employees, there is a dollar amount that serves as a general guideline for substantial work. The amount has increased over the years, due to inflation. In 2016, monthly gross earnings of $1,130.00 or more are generally defined as substantial for non-blind workers. The SGA guideline for blind workers is usually $1,820.00. However, for the self-employed and sometimes even for employees, additional factors can apply when the Social Security Administration assesses whether a person is performing SGA.
The SGA assessment for self-employed workers is even more complex than for employees. For example, the work of blind, self-employed workers is evaluated considering “countable” earnings; however, under Social Security rules, some types of income earned by a blind person are not counted when assessing whether the work is substantial.
This discussion of Social Security’s definition of disability provides an overview answer to the question “What is disability?” For a discussion of how this definition is applied to your Social Security Disability claim, visit our article How Does the Social Security Administration Apply Social Security Disability Laws to Determine If I Am Disabled?
Understanding Social Security Disability (SSD)—An Overview of the Basics
Social Security Disability Requirements: How to Qualify for SSD
Social Security Disability Insurance: A Complete Guide
What kinds of Social Security disability benefits are there?
Do I have to be permanently disabled to get Social Security Disability benefits?