The most straightforward way to qualify for social security disability benefits is to meet a “medical impairment listing.” This means that you have a condition recognized by the SSA that meets every requirement specified in the listing.

If you don’t meet a listing, you may still qualify for benefits if you have a condition that prevents you from continuing to work in your field. In this situation, the SSA will use the social security grid rules to assess your application.

What Factors Do the SSA Grids Consider?

SSA grids use four different factors to determine if a person is disabled. 

The grids list various combinations of those factors and dictate whether those combinations demonstrate a disability. The four factors are: 

  • Residual functional capacity (RFC), 
  • Age, 
  • Education, and 
  • Work experience.

We’ll discuss these four factors below.

Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)

RFC measures your physical capabilities. The SSA breaks this into five categories: 

  • Sedentary, 
  • Light, 
  • Medium, 
  • Heavy, and 
  • Very heavy. 

Usually, the SSA will not find those who are capable of heavy or very heavy work to be disabled, regardless of other factors.

Age

The social security disability age chart classifies people into three age categories: 

  • Younger individual (18-49), 
  • Approaching advanced age (50-54), and 
  • Advanced age (55 and older). 

Older individuals are more likely to be found disabled because it is less realistic to expect them to transition to different work.

Education

The SSA considers five educational classifications: 

  • Illiterate or unable to communicate in English, 
  • Marginal, 
  • Limited, 
  • High school education or more, and 
  • High school education or more with the ability to immediately enter a skilled or semi-skilled job. 

More educated people are less likely to be found disabled.

Work Experience

There are four ways the SSA classifies previous work experience: 

  • None, 
  • Unskilled, 
  • Skilled or semi-skilled (non-transferable), and 
  • Skilled or semi-skilled (transferable).

The more skills you have and the more versatile they are, the less likely you are to be found disabled. Typically, the SSA grid classifies your experience based on how the Department of Labor classifies your job using their Specific Vocational Preparation (SVP) rating system. The SVP considers any of the following to be vocational training:

  • Vocational education (technical schools, art schools, commercial schools, etc.),
  • In-plant training (employer-organized classroom training),
  • On-the-job training (training under the instruction of another worker),
  • Essential experience (less responsible jobs that lead to higher-grade jobs), and
  • Apprenticeships.

If you have any of this type of training, the SVP assigns a number that corresponds with your skill level based on the amount of time you spent training. Here is the scale used in the SVP:

  1. Short demonstration only
  2. Any training or demonstration up to one month
  3. 1-3 months
  4. 3-6 months
  5. 6-12 months
  6. 1-2 years
  7. 2-4 years
  8. 4-10 years
  9. More than 10 years

For example, a factory worker or other physical labor-based position might be considered unskilled work on the SSA grid and assigned an SVP number of 2, while being a waitress or retail worker is semi-skilled and has a number of 3. Almost any job requiring more than a high school diploma is considered skilled and usually has an SVP number of 8 or 9.

How Do I Establish a Disability Under the Social Security Grid Rules?

Those with higher RFC limitations, more advanced age, less education, and less work experience are most likely to have their disability applications approved.

It is very difficult for younger individuals to establish a disability. Only those who are illiterate or unable to communicate in English and have only unskilled or no work experience are likely to qualify.

Showing the SSA that your skills are non-transferable will go a long way toward establishing a disability, especially if you are older. If you have skills that are useful in a variety of different occupations, the SSA is more likely to decide that you can work in a different field. On the other hand, skills that are useful only for a specific job are less likely to be considered transferable.

Can I Establish a Disability If I Don’t Qualify Under the SSA Grids?

There are a few ways to establish a disability outside the grids. Here are a few examples.

Non-Exertional Limitations

You could show that you have a “non-exertional” limitation. RFC measures your exertional limitations—things like walking, lifting, sitting, and carrying. Non-exertional limitations include things like memory impairments or mental illness. These can also impact your ability to work, even though you might physically be capable of heavy work. 

No RFC

You could show that you have an RFC that is less than sedentary. If your limitations prevent you from doing even sit-down work, this would be a consideration outside the social security grid rules.

Worn-Out Worker Rule

You could argue the “worn-out worker” rule. This rule applies to those with marginal education who have worked in physically demanding unskilled labor for 35 years or more. Someone who meets the conditions of the worn-out worker rule may have their disability application approved even if they are capable of performing lighter work.

How Do I Start My SSDI Application?

At GAR Disability Advocates, we understand how confusing SSA grids can be for applicants. Fortunately, our specialists know the SSA’s disability application rules inside and out. If you need help filing a claim for disability and navigating social security disability age charts, you should consider hiring one of our disability advocates.

A disability advocate specializes in social security disability claims. They understand the complicated process of applying for SSDI benefits, and they can help you navigate through the numerous SSA rules and procedures. Most importantly, our disability advocates work on a contingency fee agreement, which means you pay us nothing unless we get you approved for disability benefits. If you have limitations that are keeping you from working, call us at 201-308-9520 or send us a message online for a free evaluation of your claim.