the advocacy monitor

Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Reform of the Definition of Disability in the Social Security Act Used to Award Disability Benefits

Approved by the NCIL membership July 2014

Whereas, studies show that working age people with disabilities want to work and they do work; and

Whereas, the efforts to acquire and retain gainful employment are fundamental to a realization of full independence, equality and civic participation for people with disabilities; and

Whereas, NCIL is already engaged in seeking a redefinition of disability for young SSI beneficiaries through the CareerACCESS Initiative (; and

Whereas, “disability” under the Social Security Act is defined as the inability to execute significant paid physical or mental labor, and whereas individuals must go through an extensive process to prove their inability to work as a stipulation for Social Security disability benefits eligibility; and 

Whereas, the process for proving inability to work is more extensive in the case of SSDI than in SSI, because of the extra scrutiny of an applicant’s work history; and

Whereas, for the last 20 years, only one half of a percent of Social Security disability beneficiaries have annually left the disability rolls for paid employment; and

Whereas, the 1999 Ticket to work and Work Incentives Improvement Act, which created the Ticket to Work Program, has produced poor results over the last 15 years in enabling Social Security beneficiaries to seek and obtain gainful employment; and

Whereas, SSDI already involves many financial disincentives to work such as the SGA Benefit Threshold, also known as the Cash Cliff, which involves a complete termination of SSDI benefits after 12 months in which the recipient has been earning $1070 a month as someone with a disability, or $1800 a month as someone who is blind; and

Whereas, SSDI recipients can spend years focusing on their inability to work, while their motivation, self-esteem and work experience dwindle; and,

Whereas, an individual’s likelihood of returning to work decreases with the passage of time:

Be it therefore resolved, that NCIL collaborate with the Social Security Administration, stakeholders and policymakers in finding a definition of disability which does not disincentivize any disability beneficiaries from seeking employment, while ensuring that the system supports and serves those it was intended to serve; and

Resolved, that NCIL advocate for an integrated redefinition of disability in the Social Security Act for SSDI as well as SSI beneficiaries, to eliminate the need for individuals to prove their inability to work in order to receive benefits; and

Resolved, that NCIL push for improvements to the CareerACCESS Initiative to address youth who receive SSDI benefits as well as SSI benefits; and

Resolved, that NCIL continue to change intrinsic ideas and values around safety net and social service programs like In Home Supportive Services (IHSS), personal assistance services (PAS), Social Security and paratransit to emphasize peoples abilities and contributions rather than our inabilities; and

Resolved, that while individuals with disabilities may receive messages about their perceived inabilities to work from teachers, parents, family, friends, local communities, pastors, peers, social workers, doctors and members of the general public, NCIL staff and board will make every effort to send positive messages that people with disabilities are fully capable of successful careers; and

Resolved, that NCIL continue to collaborate with the Social Security Administration, stakeholders, and federal and state policymakers to reform SSDI and SSI for persons with disabilities who seek employment.