How does SSA determine extent of disability?

How does SSA determine extent of disability?

In order to determine whether an individual is eligible for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will determine whether the individual is disabled and will determine the extent of disability, i.e. to determine if the individual is capable of performing work-related activities.

Determining if the Applicant is Disabled 

The SSA considers a person disabled only if the illness or injury interferes with basic activities related to the performance of his job. If the agency does not find that the injury or illness meets these criteria, the agency will conclude that the individual does not qualify for disability benefits.

For this, the agency will determine if the individual’s condition is included in the Listing of Impairments that qualify for benefits. If so, the individual must meet the criteria under the specific listing corresponding with her disability in order to receive disability benefits. 

However, some individuals do not meet the criteria in the Listing of Impairments, but may still qualify as disabled. In such cases, the SSA will go back to its first and most important rule: it will consider an individual disabled if his illness or injury prevents him from performing work that she used to do before, or adjusting to new work. Thus, it must determine the extent of disability.

How does SSA determine the extent of disability? 

In order to determine whether the injury or illness is serious enough to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, the SSA will consider all of the evidence it has before it, and determine what tasks or activities the person is capable of doing.

For instance, the agency will determine whether the person is able to perform basic activities related to her work. 

  • Sitting
  • Standing
  • Walking
  • Carrying loads
  • Pushing things
  • Reaching out for or handling large objects
  • Using fingers
  • Bending
  • Stooping
  • Climbing stairs or ladders


The SSA will also consider the person’s tolerance level for workplace conditions like temperature extremes, humidity, noise, dust, fumes and other environmental conditions. It will also consider her vision, hearing and ability to speak. The agency will determine whether the person is able to concentrate on and pay attention to a given task, is able to carry out instructions, and is able to respond appropriately to coworkers.

The agency will analyze all of the factors that can determine whether the disability is serious enough to render the individual unable to return to her former job, or work in a new job where she can earn a sustainable income. Make sure you discuss all of these and other factors with your attorney to assess your own eligibility for benefits based on this standard.

Talk to a Lawyer about the Extent of Disability and Your Qualifications for Benefits

Just because an individual believes that she is injured or disabled does not mean that the SSA will believe it too. The agency has very specific and stringent criteria that an individual must fulfill before the agency determines that she’s disabled and is therefore eligible for Social Security disability benefits.

To answer questions about your injury and extent of disability and whether it makes you eligible for Social Security disability benefits, speak to Social Security disability attorney Rob Levine, the Heavy Hitter ®.

Call 1-866-LAW-SSDI to set up your consultation with an attorney today. We’ll review your case and help you evaluate your eligibility for Social Security disability benefits based on the criteria in the Listing of Impairments and the extent of disability.

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