To determine eligibility for disability benefits, SSA statute holds that a person is disabled only if his or her physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he or she is not only unable to do his or her previous work but cannot, considering his or her age, education, and work experience, engage in any other job that exists in the national economy.
To make this determination for adults, we use a step-by-step process involving the following five questions:
- Are you working?
- Is your condition “severe”?
- Does your condition meet the criteria found in the list of disabling conditions?
- If your condition is not found in the list, can you do the work you did previously?
- If you cannot do the work you did previously, can you do other type of work?
Within this process, we consider reasonable accommodations made by employers:
- At step 1 when we subtract the reasonable costs to you of certain items and services which, because of your impairment(s), you need and use to enable you to work; and
- At step 4 when we evaluate the ability to perform previous work with the accommodations that may have been provided by an employer.
The ADA defines a "qualified individual" to mean an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation can perform the essential functions of the employment position that the individual holds or desires.
Reasonable accommodations may include:
- Making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities; and
- Job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials or policies, the provision of qualified readers or interpreters, and other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities.
In considering how the ADA applies to SSA, the Supreme Court noted that SSA receives millions of claims for disability benefits each year and that our administrative resources are limited. See SSR 00-1c .
The Court noted that "the matter of reasonable accommodation may turn on highly disputed workplace-specific matters; and an SSA misjudgment about that detailed, and often fact-specific matter would deprive a seriously disabled person of the critical financial support the statute seeks to provide."
This statement still holds true today. As we seek to keep pace with changes in medicine, health care practice, technology, and the world of work, we continuously scan the environment to determine if there are advances that we should consider in our program. Specifically, we are interested in learning if there are reasonable accommodations so widely available nationally, that they are not “highly disputed workplace specific matters,” but rather commonplace, and therefore should be considered in decision-making.
Government auditors and other outside groups have weighed in on the issue of reasonable accommodations, and suggested that SSA should explore the area. For example;
An audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated that SSA’s disability programs “… equate the severity of medical conditions with inability to work and thus are out of sync with modern concepts of disability. Modern concepts focus on an individual’s functional abilities in the workplace environment with reasonable accommodations”
“…The Social Security Advisory Board and the Urban Institute, have reported that SSA’s disability programs should focus more on whether an individual can work given appropriate environmental or other supports…” i.e., reasonable accommodations as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
We remain committed to making evidence based policy decisions. We are interested in getting your thoughts as we evaluate these recommendations on consideration of reasonable accommodations in the SSA disability program.
Question for consideration
Are there reasonable accommodations that employers provide universally, such that SSA could assume they would be available to any claimant when we determine whether he or she has the capacity to perform “any job in the national economy” (as required by our Statute)? If yes, what are those accommodations? What information or evidence can you offer to support any suggestion that such accommodations are universally available?
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