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One Fact You Should Know About Disability

Disability is something many people don’t expect to face. In reality, a 20-year-old worker currently has a one in four chance of experiencing a disability before reaching retirement age. In Washington state, there are over 178,000 people receiving disability payments. In Idaho, there are over 44,000. Nationally, there are over 8.75 million. That makes Social Security disability benefits something you should learn about and understand.

One fact you should know is Social Security’s definition of disability—the inability to work because of a severe condition that is expected to last for a year or end in death.

Social Security disability benefits replace part of your income when you become disabled and are unable to work. Other disability programs may have partial disability or short-term disability, but federal law requires a stricter definition of disability for Social Security benefits. The definition of disability used to qualify you for Social Security Disability Insurance is generally the same one that is used for Supplemental Security Income benefits.

Most people focus on the medical severity of their condition when filing for disability benefits. They provide medical records that show how severe the condition is. Since Social Security defines severity in terms of being unable to work, we also need complete work information.

You can read a description about the process of evaluating whether you can work or not and the severity of your condition in our publication, Disability Benefits, at, under the section, “How we make the decision.” Understanding how we make the disability decision helps you see the importance of information you provide about your condition and the types of work you have done. For more information about how we evaluate your work, you should review this section on our website:

Remember, when you provide the details about your condition and your work, you’re creating a picture of your individual situation. These details show the extent of your disabling condition. These are examples of some of the types of specific information we need about your prior work:

  • Main responsibilities of your job(s)
  • Main tasks you performed
  • Dates you worked (month and year)
  • Number of hours a day you worked per week
  • Rate of pay you received
  • Tools, machinery and equipment you used
  • Knowledge, skills and abilities your work required
  • Extent of supervision you had
  • Amount of independent judgment you used
  • Objects you had to lift and carry and how much they weighed
  • How much you had to sit, stand, walk, climb, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, balance
  • How you used your hands, arms, and legs
  • Speaking, hearing and vision requirements of your job(s)
  • Environmental conditions of your workplace(s)

Disability is an unpredictable element in our lives. Help us help you by educating yourself about disability benefits, and by providing all the specific information we ask for when you file for benefits. Social Security continues to secure today and tomorrow by providing benefits and financial protection for millions of people throughout life’s journey.

Contributor Kirk Larson is a public affairs specialist with Social Security Washington.