If you are unsure as to whether you would qualify as being disabled, use these five steps (as used by the Social Security Administration) to determine your eligibility.

Step 1: Are you engaged in “Substantial Gainful Activity”?

That is, are you currently working enough to disqualify you from benefits? According to the Social Security Administration, “to be eligible for disability benefits, a person must be unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA)” or, if working, earn less than the specified monthly amount. The specified monthly amount depends on the type and complexity of a person’s disability; for instance, the Social Security Act specifies a higher SGA amount for blind individuals, but a lower SGA amount for non-blind individuals. The projected 2019 earnings for non-blind individuals is $1,220.

If your monthly earnings are more than these projected amounts, you are presumed to be engaged in substantial gainful activity and are likely to be determined not-disabled.

Step 2: How Severe are Your Impairments?

While the law defines disability as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA), the reasons for such inability must meet the criteria of medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) “which can be expected to result in death, or which have lasted (or can be expected to last) for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” If your impairments cannot be expected to result in death, and/or they have not (or will not) last continuously for one year, you are likely to be determined not-disabled.

A medically determinable physical or mental impairment, per the SSA, is an “impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities that can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. The medical evidence must establish that an individual has a physical or mental impairment; a statement about the individual’s symptoms is not enough.” If a medically acceptable clinical/laboratory diagnostic technique cannot establish your physical or mental impairment, you are likely to be determined as not-disabled.

To be severe, your conditions must significantly limit your ability to do basic work, such as lifting, standing, walking, sitting, and/or remembering—for a continuous period not less than 12 months.

Step 3: Do I Meet the Listing of Impairments?

As the SSA states regarding its Listing of Impairments:

“The criteria in the Listing of Impairments apply only to one step of the multi-step sequential evaluation process. At that step, the presence of an impairment that meets the criteria in the Listing of Impairments (or that is of equal severity) is usually sufficient to establish that an individual who is not working is disabled. However, the absence of a listing-level impairment does not mean the individual is not disabled. Rather, it merely requires the adjudicator to move on to the next step of the process and apply other rules in order to resolve the issue of disability.

For a comprehensive Listing of Impairments for both Children and Adults, follow the links at the end of the post.

Step 4: Can You Do Your Prior Job?

If you are unable to engage in substantial gainful activities and have a severe enough impairment(s) that also meets the criteria of the Listing of Impairments, the next step will be to decide if your medical impairment(s) prevents you from performing any of your past work.

First, at step 4, the Social Security Administration will determine your Residual Function Capacity (RFC), your ability to do physical and mental work activities on a sustained basis despite limitations from your impairment(s).

If your impairment(s) do not prevent you from performing any of your past work, you will likely be determined to be not-disabled.

Step 5: Can You Do Any Other Job?

If you are unable to work, and you cannot do the work you did in the past, the SSA will look to see if there is other work you could do despite your impairment(s).

The SSA will consider your medical conditions, your age, education, past work experience, and any transferable skills you may have. If they find that you are unable to do any other work, you may be determined to be disabled; however, if they find that you can do other work, or are able to perform a job elsewhere in the workforce, you are likely to be determined not-disabled.

If you are unsure as to whether you qualify as being disabled, how these five steps may apply in your case, or whether other special considerations may apply, consult a top-level Social Security Representative; do not assume that you are not disabled without consulting a top-level Social Security Representative!



Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 216(i)


Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 223(d)


Social Security Act, 42 U.S.S. § 1614(a)(3)(A)


20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)


20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)



Related Reading

Substantial Gainful Activity Amounts


Benefits Planner: Disability – How You Qualify


Disability Evaluation Under Social Security


Disability Benefits


Listing of Impairments (Adults)


Listing of Impairments (Children)