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Ways that the Social Security Administration Assesses Your Physical Capabilities


It is difficult but necessary for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to assess your physical abilities before awarding you Social Security Disability benefits. An important component of how the SSA assesses your physical abilities is by asking you to explain how your disability affects your everyday life, and to describe the ways that carrying out these activities has changed since you became disabled.

The SSA makes this assessment by asking you to complete a survey describing your ability to complete Activities of Daily Living, or ADLs. These activities include:

  • Housekeeping tasks, such as vacuuming, mopping, doing laundry, and scrubbing
  • Personal hygiene and grooming tasks, such as brushing your hair, bathing, showering, dressing yourself, shaving, or applying makeup
  • Driving your car
  • Shopping for groceries
  • Pumping gas
  • Cooking meals
  • Engaging in hobbies you once enjoyed
  • Social outings with friends or partners
  • Traveling on vacations

There are several forms that you will likely need to complete which will include surveys regarding your ADLs, including the Adult Function Report, Continuing Disability Review Report, and Adult Disability Report. When answering questions about what you are or are not physically capable of doing, answer thoroughly and accurately. If you can do something, but have difficulty doing it, need a great deal of time to do it, or only do it when you are unable to get help, make that clear. For example, if you are capable of preparing your own meals, but the only meals you’re able to stand long enough to cook are microwaveable pre-packaged dinners, make this clear on your form.

Sometimes, you may feel embarrassed to admit your limitations and don’t want to share these intimate details about your life with a group of strangers. For example, if you’re able to bathe yourself, but only have the energy to do so once every few days, you may not want to share this fact on your survey. However, it’s extremely important to be honest about your condition, so that you get the help you need. Additionally, if you overstate your abilities on your form, but testify more honestly at a hearing before an administrative law judge, your descriptions could be seen as inconsistent, diminishing your credibility and hurting your claim.

The survey may ask you to describe your activities in a normal day. If you’re only able to do a fraction of what you once could, you may feel tempted to answer “I can’t do anything,” or “just sit and watch tv.” Try to give a thorough, accurate description of the activities in your day, however, so that those reviewing your form understand the difficulties you face throughout your day.

For assistance in Alabama with an application for Social Security Disability benefits, contact the Montgomery disability benefits attorneys at the Dansby Law Firm for help, at 334-834-7001.

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