An Overview on Social Security Disability Law

How to determine if you qualify for benefits

By Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on March 1, 2023

Use these links to jump to different sections:

If you have a disability and are unable to work, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), two programs directed by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Your eligibility may depend on whether you can work, or what type of disability you have.

You can use the following overview to start the process of evaluating whether you qualify for these benefits. You might also find it beneficial to speak with a lawyer, who can help you gather the necessary information for your case.


Social Security disability law is a set of rules that is used to decide who will qualify for the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income program (SSI).

Both SSDI and SSI are directed by the Social Security Administration (SSA). SSDI benefits are like social security retirement benefits in that only individuals who have paid enough into the social security system are eligible to receive them. SSI, on the other hand, provides needs-based benefits for low income individuals who have not paid enough into the system.

SSDI and SSI are only available to people who have a disability and meet specified criteria.

Applying for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits

SSDI is a monthly benefit available to disabled workers under the Social Security Act. SSDI is sometimes available to a worker’s family members as well. It can also go to widows and adult children who have a disability. There are two main requirements to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance:

  • You must have worked in a job covered by Social Security
  • You must meet the Social Security definition of a person with a disability

You meet the SSA’s definition of disability if you cannot do the work that you did before and the SSA determines you cannot adjust to other work. It is also a requirement that your disability has lasted a least a year (or is expected to), or that it will result in your death. In making a disability determination, the SSA asks five questions:

  1. Are you working?
  2. Is your condition severe?
  3. Is your condition on the list of disabling conditions?
  4. Can you do the work you did before?
  5. Can you do another type of work?

In addition to meeting the definition of disability, however, you must have enough work credits, which are points you earn by working and paying Social Security taxes.

The amount varies based on how old you are when you become disabled, and you are not automatically disqualified from receiving SSDI if you do not have enough work credits—as it is possible to qualify based on your spouse’s or parent’s work credits.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

These benefits are available regardless of your work history, and you can qualify for SSI if you:

  • Are over age 65, blind or disabled
  • Have limited income
  • Have few assets

SSI does not provide as much income as SSDI because it is a fixed amount that is not based on past wages. Common reasons for not getting SSI benefits include having too much income or too many resources, and the limits on income and resources are dependent on whether you have an eligible spouse. In some cases, you may also be required to give the SSA permission to contact financial institutions. Failing to do so can prevent you from receiving SSI benefits.

Common Questions for an Attorney

Below are some common questions you might want to consider when meeting with an attorney for the first time.

  1. What is your experience working with social security cases?
  2. How are social security disability benefit amounts calculated?
  3. What is full retirement age and how will it impact my benefits?
  4. How does my SSI eligibility impact Medicaid?
  5. What is involved in the appeals process?
  6. What are the rules about working while receiving disability benefits?
  7. What is the maximum amount of social security disability I can receive?
  8. Can you get social security disability if your spouse works?

Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs

It is important to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can help you through your entire case. To do so, you can visit the Super Lawyers directory, and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location.

To help you get started, you may want to consider looking for a lawyer who practices Social Security disability law.

Why Should I Talk to a Lawyer?

Qualifying for disability benefits requires a lot of paperwork, and it can be a daunting process. Your lawyer can help you navigate the application process, making sure you provide all the required information (such as medical records, , which will speed up your process. If your application was denied, a lawyer can help you determine whether it would be beneficial to appeal the decision.

A lawyer will be further able to anticipate potential problems with your case and advise you on how to approach them, as well as keep track of deadlines and file all the paperwork with the necessary courts and agencies—giving you one less thing to worry about.

What do I do next?

Enter your location below to get connected with a qualified attorney today.
Popular attorney searches: Employee Benefits Insurance Coverage

Related topics

Find top lawyers with confidence

The Super Lawyers patented selection process is peer influenced and research driven, selecting the top 5% of attorneys to the Super Lawyers lists each year. We know lawyers and make it easy to connect with them.

Find a lawyer near you