What Is Social Security Disability Insurance?

Social Security Disability Insurance provides monthly benefits to individuals who are disabled or blind persons who are "insured" by workers' contributions to the Social Security trust fund. These contributions are based on your earnings (or those of your spouse or parents) as required by the Federal Insurance Contributions Act.

What is SSDI?

Social Security Disability Insurance is a payroll tax-funded, federal insurance program administered by the Social Security Administration that provides income supplements to individuals who are physically restricted in their ability to be employed because of a disability, usually medical in nature. SSDI can be provided either on a temporary or permanent basis, typically based on whether the disability is temporary or permanent.

Who is eligible for SSDI?

Social Security Disability Insurance is available to individuals who cannot work because they have a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death. While some programs give money to people with partial disability or short-term disability, the SSA does not. Generally, to be eligible for SSDI, you must meet two different earnings tests:

  • A "recent work" test based on your age at the time you became disabled
  • A "duration of work" test to show that you worked long enough under Social Security

Certain blind workers have to meet only the "duration of work" test. The SSA Publication Number 05-10029, May 2014, provides tables illustrating the duration test and the recent work test. Adult children who are disabled are eligible to receive SSDI benefits based on your work if they have a disability that started before age 22.

The SSA determines general eligibility for the program, but the Disability Determination Services office in your state completes the disability determination. Doctors and disability specialists in the state agency coordinate with your doctors to evaluate your condition and your ability to do work-related activities.

How do I apply for SSDI?

The SSA provides two ways to apply for disability benefits. You can apply online through the SSA Disability Online portal, or by calling 800-772-1213 to schedule an appointment to file a disability claim at your local Social Security office. You may also set up an appointment for someone to take your claim over the telephone. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you may call toll-free TTY number, 800-325-0778, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on business days.

More information is available through the SSA Publication Number 05-10029, July 2011.


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