Campaign: Social Security

What is disability? We need a uniform definition.

There are too many definitions of disability, as previously noted; they conflate eligibility requirements with support needs, with financial factors complicating disability eligibility. It's a mess.


Right now, "disability" (as an eligibility requirement) is defined as the inability to achieve substantial gainful activity (SGA), rather than being defined as the presence of an impairment that would be regarded as a disability (as in the ADAAA) which may require work accommodations, modifications, assistive technology and training strategies (which may need to be provided by highly-qualified rehabilitation and support personnel) in order to work. Do you see the difference?


We need to separate disability determination - separating impairments from financial resource and funding needs. You have an impairment, or you don't have an impairment. That needs to documented. You have financial resources, or you don't have financial resources. That is subject to change. Having financial resources does not make the impairment go away.


Why is this important? Because people with disabilities who want to work need accommodations, modifications, assistive technology and training strategies that are not the same as non-disabled workers; they should not have to go through serial eligibility determinations through multiple agencies, or negotiate with occupational medicine and human resources at each and every job site to establish that they need these accommodations based on their impairment. If we are to expect individuals and families to apply for grants, scholarships, charities, etc., or to use funding from special savings accounts, then the presence of the impairment needs to be documented in a standardized way that does not conflate financials with impairments.


{Think of a typical student applying for college. There are many colleges; these days, there are central application services that supply standard information to each college selected, with additional information supplemented as required by the individual college. So this student's application and supporting information will help a college determine their eligibility and suitability for their program. Then the student who needs funding to go to college completes the FAFSA. The family financial information is considered, and possible sources of funding are identified...but this information is separate from the college application. The student gets to choose colleges and financial aid packages. Two systems (educational eligibility and financial need) are separate; you don't determine educational eligibility based on financial need.}


People with disabilities need to be able to deduct their impairment-related work expenses (IRWEs) from their taxes if they are no longer financially eligible for funding through Social Security. Easily documented when not conflated with financial resources.


In order for this to work, we are going to have to blend funding from multiple sources. If each source has a separate definition of disability and disability determination/documentation requirement, then we will continue to have a duplicative, wasteful, inefficient system. But if instead we have a uniform definition of disability, with an agreed-upon documentation verification system that is interoperable throughout agencies, we can eliminate the waste, delays and inefficiencies in services.

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Idea No. 318