An Abbreviated Definition of Disability

An abbreviated description of Social Security's definition of disability requires the claimant to prove they have a physical or mental impairment(s), or combination of both, that has lasted or is expected to last for 12 continuous months and the impairment(s) prevent(s) them from performing work that exists in significant numbers.

Two Ways To Prove Disability

First, the claimant may prove disability by producing objective and clinical evidence (x-rays, MRI's, CT scans, blood work, physical examinations, mental status examinations, etc) that shows their impairment is at the level of severity required by Social Security under the listed impairment. This is called meeting a listing. If a claimant meets a listing, they are presumed unable to work, and therefore, they are disabled.

Second, if a claimant does not meet a listed impairment, Social Security considers how severe the claimant's impairments are (based on the objective and clinical evidence) and what is the resulting residual functional capacity ("RFC"). RFC is the maximum a person can still do despite their impairments. RFC is classified into exertional categories: less than sedentary; sedentary; light, medium, heavy and very heavy. The claimant must first prove their RFC prevents them from performing their past relevant work. If their RFC allows them to perform their past relevant work, they are not disabled. Once the claimant has met his burden of proving their RFC prevents them from performing their past relevant work, the burden shifts to Social Security to prove that other work exists in significant numbers. If the claimant's RFC reduces their ability to perform work that exists at a significant number in the national or regional economies, they are found disabled. What constitutes a significant number is a determination left to the ALJ and is not specified in the Social Security Act.