Does Race or Gender Play a Role in Disability?

by Jennifer Scherf

Many people believe that race and/or gender play a role in disability determinations. This is absolutely not true. Age is a factor, but religion or the color of your skin is not considered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) when determining disability.

The decision makers: claims handlers, disability examiners, reviewing doctors and administrative law judges are all different races, religions and genders themselves, so to feel that these things played a role would be an error.

What is considered?

Your impairments:

Physical and mental impairments are considered. So are other things such as obesity, pain, fatigue and any alcohol or drug addictions. Both severe and non-severe conditions are to be considered in assessing your overall ability to maintain employment.

Your age:

SSA recognizes that people over 55 years of age would have more trouble getting hired at an entry-level job or making vocational adjustments.

Your education and work background:

Can you read and write English? Can you count change or balance your checkbook?
What kind of work have you done in the prior 15 years? What kind of skills did you learn that could transfer into less-demanding work?

Your financial situation (sometimes):

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is need-based, so income and assets are considered.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is not need-based, and you can get it with millions in the bank or nothing to your name. Judges do tend to look at work history (good employee, long-term employment) and earnings (were you a high-wage earner) as a factor when determining disability. The reasoning is that high-wage earners and people who were with a company for a long time are less likely to quit working unless they really are unable to continue. People who jumped from low-paying job to low-paying job without ever having a real career are not taking as large a financial loss by applying for SSDI.

* Additional information can be found online at