Adults with cerebral palsy whose impairments make it difficult for them to perform routine daily activities and work may be eligible for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA). If you don’t automatically qualify for disability benefits under the SSA’s official listing for cerebral palsy, as the next part of the disability determination process, the SSA is required to consider the effect of your impairments on your capacity to perform routine daily activities and work. The SSA will then determine whether there is any kind of job you can be expected to do. First, the SSA will give you a rating of the type of work it thinks you can do. This is called your residual functional capacity (RFC).
The SSA will look at your medical record to see how your cerebral palsy affects your day-to-day activities and limits what you can do. For this reason, it's important that your doctor include a description of your impairments and how they limit your activities (for example, patient can't walk or stand for more than three hours at a time).
If you have physical impairments, such as problems walking or standing, the SSA will give you a physical RFC. A physical RFC will rate your ability to do sedentary work, light work, or medium work. For instance, if you can walk normally, but have problems standing or walking for long periods of time, you should get a sedentary RFC. If you can grasp effectively with one hand but not the other, you should get a sedentary RFC.
Next, the SSA will look at your education level, age, and experience to determine if there’s any kind of work you can be expected to do. If you were given a sedentary RFC, the SSA will see if there are any desk jobs you can do. As long as you can read and write, the SSA is likely to find that there are desk jobs you can do, and won’t find you disabled on a medical-vocational allowance. But for those who are over 55 and have little formal education and skills, chances at getting disability benefits through a medical-vocational allowance are much greater.
If you have mental impairments, such as low IQ or the inability to follow directions, concentrate, remember details, or you have trouble communicating or having appropriate social interactions, the SSA will give you a mental RFC. A mental RFC will rate your ability to do skilled work, semi-skilled work, unskilled work, or unskilled work.
If the SSA finds you can do unskilled work, and you don’t have physical limitations that would prevent you from doing so, the SSA will likely find that you are not disabled because there are many unskilled jobs you could do. But again, those who are 55 or older and have little education or skills may be found disabled under a medical-vocational allowance.
If the SSA finds that you can’t perform even unskilled work because of your mental impairments, the SSA might grant you benefits under a medical-vocational allowance. This could happen despite the fact that your IQ is above 70 (otherwise you would qualify under the official listing, above). For instance, your IQ might be 80 and you have severe trouble following directions and concentrating.
If the SSA has given you a mental RFC for unskilled work and a physical RFC for sedentary work, the number of jobs you can is greatly lowered — there are relatively few unskilled desk jobs. This will increase your chances of getting a medical-vocational allowance. Read more about getting disability for multiple impairments and how Social Security decides whether to give you benefits through a medical-vocational allowance.
To set up an appointment to submit an application for SSI or SSDI through your local SSA office, call the SSA at 800-772-1213. A claims examiner will request your medical records, review them with a medical consultant, and make a decision on whether you are entitled to disability benefits. It will take at least five or six months, or more, for the SSA to determine whether you are eligible for disability benefits on a medical-vocational allowance.
As you can see, getting disability benefits for cerebral palsy through a medical-vocational allowance is quite complicated. However, many claimants with cerebral palsy win disability benefits this way, especially on appeal. If you can’t qualify under the official cerebral palsy listing, you should consider hiring a disability lawyer to help you file or appeal your claim.