Article Index

Required level of disability

The term "disabled" under Social Security regulations means that: a person is unable to do any work, even part-time, sedentary work on a predictable basis, and this condition has lasted or is expected to last at least a year.

This definition is termed "permanently and totally disabled". Under this definition a person is unable to perform any "substantial, gainful activity." (This is a more encompassing standard than many long-term disability policies, which may allow for some level of work.)

The key phrase for many disabled patients is being able to do any work on a "predictable basis".

For example, especially in the case of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) or fibromyalgia (FM), a person might be able to work 4 hours today on a computer, and 4 hours tomorrow on the phone, but then be unable to work for 3 days due to a relapse. This person would be considered disabled by Social Security. However, if a person could work 5 hours a day, 3 or 4 days a week on an ongoing, predictable schedule week after week, month after month—then the person would not be considered disabled.