Physical Disabilities can be a Barrier to Employment

Physical Disability as barrier to functional employment

Defining a physical disability seems like it should be straightforward.  Something doesn’t work the way it should!  Should is, of course, a very subjective term; everyone would have a different definition “should” in this context.


What is Normal?

It might be easier to say there’s a norm, and most of us deviate to some degree or another from that norm.  Within certain amounts, we can perform most or all the tasks associated with a certain occupation or activity, but deviating further gives us less likelihood of being successful.

For example, if have full (or essentially full) use of both arms and hands, then most things in life that require the use of hands will be something you’re potentially able to do.

Open jars

Drive a vehicle

Type a document

Operate an industrial machine

This doesn’t mean that you can’t do some or all of these things without hands, or even arms!  It just means that the activity itself was likely designed first for someone who has little to no impairments.  Fortunately, more and more activities at work and leisure are being designed to be more accessible every day, but there’s still a huge barrier that exists for anyone who has physical challenges.

That barrier has a huge impact on employability, employment, as well as the earnings potential over time.

 

Physical Disabilities on Un-employment & Under-Employment

On average a person with a physical disability, and able to seek work, is at least twice as likely to be unemployed vs a peer with the same education level and background experience. Of those that are employed, they will often earn significantly less income than their peers, and are more than twice as likely to be under-employed and unable to earn a living wage.

These are probably surprising statistics.  And they shift the focus of the conversation to some degree as well.  Perhaps you were at one time able to do activities that you can’t do now because of a physical barrier.  Maybe you lost the use of limbs, loss coordination, can’t walk, stand, or sit for more than 5-10 minutes at a time?  Or, you might not be able to get where you used to be able to, or need to be able to for work now.

 

Physical Disabilities and Functional Employment

 

The issue is not if you can do something once.  It’s very possible that even with a physical disability you can perform a task a single time, or for short periods of time.  But you likely need support to do so or a great deal of effort.

You have a barrier.  And that barrier is that you can’t perform activities or work now without significant assistance, and you can’t do it everyday, all-day, every week, all year, for the next couple decades.

This is, essentially, the basic idea behind the idea of evaluating Substantially Gainful Activity (SGA).   SGA is one of the cornerstone requirements for SSI & SSDI benefits for physical disabilities.  In this link, we discuss SGA further, with examples to demonstrate how physical and mental health disabilities factor into benefits scenarios.

 

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Substantially Gainful Activity Explained, and Examples

Substantially Gainful Activity for SSI SSDI

Social Security Disability benefits are predicated on whether or not you can perform Substantially Gainful Activity (SGA), so it makes sense that a disability blog should define that a bit better and provide examples.  

 

Defining Substantially Gainful Activity (SGA) 

Social Security bases their definition of disability on your ability to work (or perform tasks like working) that do or could, earn you more than the current monthly income threshold.  If you make more than that threshold, you are not seen as warranting disability compensation benefits by the Social Security Administration.  You can appeal these determinations.

 

Gainful Activity 

This can be a bit of a tricky calculation, but here are the basics.  If a wage or earnings are not made, the work is not gainful.  However, if you do perform some form of activity for pay, then it is considered gainful as long as the expense of doing so is less than the income you receive.

Social Security Administration Definition of Gainful Activity 

Work performed for pay or profit; or

Work of a nature generally performed for pay or profit; or

Work intended for profit, whether or not a profit is realized

This is important to know because benefits like SSI are tied to SGA.  If you net too much income per month, you may not qualify for SSI benefits, due to your ability to perform SGA.  This is a common reason for Social Security Disability Denials.

 

Substantial but Not Gainful

It is possible you can perform activities that you might do on a regular basis that would require significant physical or mental abilities.  These activities could be the basis for employment, as such the value of the activities could potentially factor into the income calculations of an SSI claim.

 

Example: HR Professional in Spokane

Jane has been an HR professional in Spokane for 20 years.  Over the last 5 years, she’s had to reduce her hours significantly due to complications from diabetes.  She’s now working about 10 hours per week, earning $15 per hour.

Wage Earnings: $150/week ($600/month)

Jane is unable to work more than this due to increasingly impactful complications.  Her employer has made accommodations, including flexible scheduling, work from home, and other allowances.  But due to her disabling condition(s) Jane is unable to increase her gainful activity.

The value of Jane’s gainful activity is $600 / month (minus certain expenses).  Jane would be eligible for disability due to her inability to meet the SGA monthly income threshold, and her inability to perform supplementary and/or alternatives tasks that would otherwise be substantially gainful.

 

Example: Car Sales Professional in Spokane Valley

Alan is a car salesman in Spokane Valley.  He had a heart attack 3 years ago and has only been able to work part-time since then.  He makes about $500 per month working part-time sales.

Wage Earnings: $500/month

When Alan is not working at the car lot, he helps his sister with her home business by answering phones, filing papers, and responding to emails.  He does this about 2 hours a day or so.

Non Earning Activity (2 hrs/day) = 40hrs/month

Although the activity Alan performs for his sister’s business is not paid, it is substantial activity that could potentially fetch a wage in the economy.

The Social Security Administration determined that in addition to the $500/month Alan was earning at the car lot, the value of his work demonstrated substantially gainful activity and thus he was not entitled to the disability benefits he sought.

Alan should discuss this determination with a Social Security Lawyer in Spokane and potential file an appeal.

 

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