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Understanding distinctions between partial and total disability

“Disabled” is a term that is often loosely applied. However, the term has specific legal meaning for an applicant seeking Social Security disability benefits. 

According to the Social Security Administration’s published guidance, a physical or mental condition qualifies as a disability only if it prevents an individual from performing any substantial, gainful work duties. In addition, the impairment must be expected to last for at least one year, to the extent it is not terminal. Finally, an SSDI applicant must also have an adequate work history, although low-income disability applicants without a work background may be able to qualify for Supplemental Security Income.

Unfortunately, many Americans still have confusion about the distinction between disability in the workplace and disability benefits. Worse yet, employers may not want to understand the difference, as a recent story suggests. 

By his own account, a young college graduate with honors in journalism felt prospective employers were possibly off put by his appearance: He has cerebral palsy and requires a wheelchair. Although the young graduate could fully perform his journalism duties with technological assistance, he faced unemployment for about 12 months after graduation.

If a disability does not prevent an individual from working, an employer must provide reasonable accommodations to help that individual fulfill his or her expected work duties. The federal law that sets forth those requirements is the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Fortunately, the young graduate in this story did find a job after about a year. He is now committed to increasing employers’ awareness of how technology may facilitate the work abilities of individuals whose visual appearance might otherwise suggest total disability.

Source: FCW, "IT and disability: A symbiotic pair," Reid Davenport, July 2, 2014

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