You Can Help Shape Our Disability Policy

November 2, 2015 • By

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Last Updated: November 2, 2015

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Social Security needs your help. We are asking for responses to an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on how we should modernize our vocational rules, which we first published in 1978. These are the rules our disability decision makers use to decide whether an adult with a severe disabling condition can do any job in the national economy.

The Social Security Act sets out a strict definition of disability. Our agency pays benefits to eligible people who can’t work because of a disabling mental or physical condition expected to last at least one year or result in death. This medical condition must prevent the person from doing not only their previous work, but any other substantial work.

On Friday, November 20 in Washington DC, Social Security will host a National Disability Forum. The meeting will focus on the realities of employment for individuals with severe disabling conditions, especially for those who are older, have low skills, or low education levels. The purpose is to gather insight on circumstances such as age, education, and work experience, helping us understand the effect these may have on an individual’s ability to work and to adjust to other work. The National Disability Forum looks to consider how these vocational factors can and should inform our evaluation of an applicant’s ability to work consistent with the Social Security Act’s definition of disability.

Paul N. Van de Water will moderate a panel of experts from varying perspectives on these topics. Following the panel presentation, we encourage comments and discussion from all attendees. Your involvement is of the utmost importance in helping us further enhance our disability determination process.

Comments presented during the forum, panel, and open discussion period will be included in the public record for the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule-making, which is available in the Federal Register. To review and provide written comments, go to www.regulations.gov and enter SSA-2014-0081-0001 in the search box. Comments will be accepted until December 14.

If you plan to attend the forum, either in person or by phone, please register by Monday, November 16, 2015. For more information about the National Disability Forum series, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/ndf.

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About the Author

Gina Clemons, Associate Commissioner, Office of Disability Policy

Gina Clemons, Associate Commissioner, Office of Disability Policy


  1. Robert

    Social Security and Social Security Disability are not entitlement programs. SSI is. When the politicians refer to SS and SSD as entitlement programs, they should be voted out of office. Hopefully Donald Trump will be elected and clean up the crooks who run both systems.

    • JohnnyG

      You mean to say that “SSDI” (Social Security Disability) is an entitlement program; whereas “SSI” (Supplemental Security Income) is not. (I think you mistakenly reversed the two).
      Technically, adult SSDI is “Title II”; and adult SSI is “Title XVI”.
      However, SSI (“Title XVI”) is a true adult “federal welfare program”.

  2. Leslie D.


    Some of the comments above are cruel and callus.

    And the reason why the ADA activist took to the streets in protest. And fought for the ADA laws to be put into place. ( Discrimination )

    To those that are not disabled you have no idea what it is like to be disabled and limited in your physical or mental capacity.

    Some of you lack compassion and spiritual understanding until you become disabled and lose your dear and precious abilities or someone close to you or they pass away.

    Have you ever noticed in the news where someone is in a serious truck crash and they or a realative at that point has become a paraplegic.

    Have you noticed how the relatives or the injured person like Christopher Reeves at the time after there injuries then becomes an activist for paraplegic persons to the point of becoming famous in the science of the reversal of their being paraplegic?

    But before that had no interest or very little interest in paraplegics.

    That is because at that point of becoming injured and being in the physical state of being a paraplegic they are in shock and disbelief at their condition and at first can not see how they can live like that.

    But then thru the love and compassion of family and friends or a pastor or counseling they then have a spiritual awakening and understand like Stevie Wonder or others how they can go on and why.

    My point is how you can not understand what its like to be disabled nor see yourself as one.

    And some are even cold and calluse towards people whom are disabled. Because of Verious reasons they discriminate against them.

    Every consideration should be taken in the evaluation process.

    Age and lack of education or vocational training.

    As well as many have not worked because of missionary work or Volenteerism for the majority of their working life so huge credit needs to be given to those that have made that sacrifice for others.

    You should accommodate any persons disabling condition in helping them.

    Wheather you yourself is disabled and making the evaluation or not.

    Because you should not judge another’s disabling conditions in comparison to your own disability.

    Stop looking to cut the 99% of the people’s benifits and look to increase the 1% lack of contributions to society as a whole.

    We are not their slaves. Compassion and human dignity. Do whatever it takes to help them!!

  3. Brian S.

    Recently I had an autistic client who was found ineligible for SSI because the vocational expert said he could pick crops. An autistic man picking crops!?! He would become distracted in the first minute.

    I recognize this is a 40 year commitment by the SSA, and that the incidence of diagnosed autism is increasing. But since we have shut the state hospital system where would this man be without his family, who subsequently moved to Colorado.

    Ronald Reagan’s closing of California state hospitals such as Camarillo should be reversed so the mentally ill and developmentally delayed have a safe and economical place to live.

    • JohnnyG

      1) You mentioned:
      “An autistic man picking crops!?! He would become distracted in the first minute.”
      Most likely, yes. That is why the important of a well-qualified, board certified (e.g. NOSSCR/NADR) experienced attorney) is needed at a hearing, who can cross-examine such a vocational expert. This would depend on the “specific individual circumstances” of the claimant’s case. Yes, they take into to account all jobs in the nation’s economy. But would a hypothetic person with his/her particular functioning limitations resulting from his autistic condition–even “high-functioning autism” (as regards to autism)–be able to perform that on a “substantially gainful basis”? If not, what specific factors in the medical/psychological records indicate that? Medication side effects?

  4. bettyg

    ATTENTION: ray fernandez,

    bettyg on November 3, 2015 at 4:20 am said:

    can this nov. 20 meeting be shown on CSPAN;
    just let us know which cspan will be airing it from what specific time to another?

    thanks! we’d really enjoy listening/hearing this as we work here on pc.

    thanks for your consideration.

    bettyg, iowa BORRELIOSIS/TICK activist,
    parkinsons, alzheimer’s/dementia, etc

    on November 5, 2015 at 1:09 am said:

    SS…i’m still waiting for you to REPLY to my question above.

    i’ve NEVER gotten a reply on the 4-5 questions/statements i’ve made prior; why?
    bettyg, iowa

    3rd time is a charm i HOPE?

  5. Kimberly B.

    In response to your request, there are a few considerations concerning the realities of employment for individuals with severe disabling conditions, especially for those
    who are older,
    have low skills, or
    low education levels.
    “The purpose is to gather insight on circumstances such as age, education, and work experience, helping us understand the effect these may have on an individual’s ability to work and to adjust to other work”.

    I am on SSDI with a background in psychotherapy and gender specific programming for women and girls. I am also 55 yrs old. Please understand I appreciate and have a great respect for all older citizens. I am merely using this platform to answer the questions presented.

    I believe many (not all) older adults need additional considerations for a variety of reasons.
    1. Lack of exposure to technology coupled with intimidation
    2. Concerns in the disparity between social interactions in comparison to the younger generations in the current workforce.
    3. Transportation can be an issue with additional health and poverty constraints.
    4. Older citizens often suffer from a broad spectrum of ailments which require doctor appointments, therapies, unscheduled periods of fatigue and pain…beyond their disability. If employment is the option required for this group, one needs to consider a flexible schedule.
    5. I have experienced that many seniors (especially females) feel more confident and thus productive, working in group settings.

    Addressing considerations for those with low skills concerns:
    1. I believe a lack of empowerment is a huge obstacle for many people in attempting to enter the workforce…the addition of a disability can add a strenuous hardship. Programs assistance in this matter may be of great benefit. I suggest group approaches.
    2. In realization, low skilled people need training and support (funding considerations). Even McDonalds uses a great amount of technology in daily activities.
    3. There has been a movement towards hiring older and less skilled adults such as door greeters. Possibly looking into contracts for similar positions would become a great benefit for the severe needs or older populations.
    4. While I have been focusing on older adults, I believe it to be critical (for appropriate) disabled younger citizens to obtain at minimal a GED
    5. Finding ways to offer a set of skills training can boost one’s self esteem. Vocational versus educational can give one a great steady focus and career.
    I hope this is helpful in answering your request for feedback.

  6. Bill T.

    I sense alot of anger and frustration as I read through this blog. Not only by the people who need the program but also those who feel the system is broken and is being abused. No one will argue that the system we now share isn’t broken, but I’m still not seeing alot of suggestions to help fix it! I was to understand that this blog is an attempt to solicit suggestions to fix or repair.
    We have to get back on course, “park the frustration” and make some sound suggestions. Hopefully any suggestions offered will be considered by those in the “driver seat”
    One last thing before leaving this blog. We need this program and if we are unwilling to take steps to improve it, people who justifiably deserve it will be short changed by those who “Steal” from it!

  7. Frank

    Why isn’t there a cost of living increase for 2016? Will the government force business not to raise prices.

    • Ray F.

      Thank you for your question, Frank. The Social Security Act provides for an automatic increase in Social Security and SSI benefits only if there is an increase in inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). As determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there was no increase in the CPI-W from the third quarter of 2014 to the third quarter of 2015. Therefore, under existing law, there can be no COLA in 2016. For additional information, please go to http://www.socialsecurity.gov/cola.

  8. James R.

    As long as tax payers are paying taxes the poor can rest knowing money will come their way for being lazy and not wanting to work, but they still feel they need to have five or more children.

  9. Ronald L.

    I think there should be a stricter method used to give SSI and SSD. I personally know a number of people who are capable of work who draw it. If some help is needed then work should be required of all who can do work of any kind. If investigation can prove that NO work of any kind can be done by the person then there is no problem, but this should be proved and rechecked often. Benefits should not exceed benefits paid to the average of the bottom third of regular Social Security recipients.

  10. Donna S.

    I agree…time to crack down…instead of paying out to lazy generational deadbeats why don’t they use that money to hire more dedicated case workers to check into not only those applying for disability , but the doctors also. I know of several folks on disability, yet working under the table at hard types of jobs. Disgusting. Then hollering they have to do this because they can’t afford to live on such a low income, yet they are out in clubs, playing bingo, going to the casino, getting their nails done. The list goes on & on & on. Some even brag that they are getting nut dollars because they are bi polar, looks to me like they need to work to keep their mind busy.

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