What Is Disability Law?

Disability law is largely regulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.  The ADA is a comprehensive civil rights law.  It prohibits discrimination based on disability in employment, state and local government programs, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications.  Disability specialists can handle Social Security and/or veteran’s disability claims.

The ADA covers employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, and telecommunications for the deaf.  43 million Americans have physical or mental disabilities.  In the context of the ADA, “disability” is a legal term rather than a medical one.

Because it has a legal definition, the ADA’s definition of disability is different from how disability is defined under some other laws.  The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.



Social Security disability law consists of the rules used to decide who will qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, and how much money they will receive.

You are not required to hire an attorney to assist you at your disability hearing; however, an experienced disability attorney will greatly improve your chances of winning your claim.  In fact, statistics show that a disability claimant (applicant) who is represented by an attorney at the hearing level is twice as likely to be approved than an unrepresented claimant.

After your first level of appeal has been denied, you may request a hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ).  At your hearing, the ALJ will consider the medical evidence you have provided, your testimony, and the testimony of any other witnesses to decide if you are disabled.  Objective medical evidence is the most important component at the disability hearing level.

An attorney will help you with gathering and assessing your medical records, getting doctors’ opinions, preparing you for questioning, and questioning the vocational expert, who is a consultant hired by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to testify at your hearing as to his or her opinion about your ability to work based on your impairments.

An attorney experienced in disability law may also have familiarity with the decision-making processes of the ALJs in their area, which could help him or her argue your case by knowing how to present your case in terms of the ALJ’s style.


Depression and Anxiety as Disabilities.  You are protected by the ADA if you have a disability: a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of your major life activities.

Employees with disabilities have the right to reasonable accommodations: changes to the workplace, job, or employment policies that will allow them to do their work.  Your employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless doing so would create undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense, considering your employer’s size and resources).

It may be best to make such a request in writing.  You can thus insure you have clearly communicated your needs to your employer, and will have a record of your request.  Your employer may ask for more information or documentation of your condition and the way it affects you.



The SSA’s Listing of Impairments is generally broken down by bodily system or function.  There are separate lists for adults and children under the age of 18.  For adults, the medical conditions that qualify for SSDI or SSI include:

  • Musculoskeletal problems, such as back conditions and other dysfunctions of the joints and bones
  • Senses and speech issues, such as vision and hearing loss
  • Respiratory illnesses, such as asthma and cystic fibrosis
  • Cardiovascular conditions, such as chronic heart failure or coronary artery disease
  • Digestive tract problems, such as liver disease and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy
  • Blood disorders, such as sickle cell disease or hemophilia
  • Mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, autism, or intellectual disability
  • Immune system disorders, such as HIV/AIDS, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and kidney disease



Under the ADA, you have a disability if you have at least one of the following:

  • “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of the individual;”
  • “a record of such impairment;” or
  • “being regarded as having such an impairment.”


There are two main benefit programs for people with disabilities – Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).  There is also the Ticket to Work program that helps people who are getting SSI or SSDI to attempt to return to work with supports that protect benefits and gradually transition people to self-sufficiency.

SSI stands for Supplemental Security Income.  It’s a federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues – not Social Security taxes.  It’s designed to help people who are elderly, blind, or have a disability, and who also have very limited or no income or assets.

SSDI stands for Social Security Disability Insurance.  It pays benefits to a person who has a disability, and sometimes even to family members of the person with a disability, if the person worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes.

Most people will be denied when they first apply.  Read the denial letter because it will tell you about your right to appeal.



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Quotes of Wisdom

“Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere.”

–Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The jury system has come to stand for all we mean by English justice. The scrutiny of 12 honest jurors provides defendants and plaintiffs alike a safeguard from arbitrary perversion of the law.”

-Winston Churchill

“No man is above the law and no man is below it: nor do we ask any man’s permission when we ask him to obey it.

–Theodore Roosevelt

“Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”

–Thomas Jefferson

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