Applying for Social Security Disability - An Overview

Start here for an overview on the initial application process for both SSDI and SSI disability.

While people are usually aware of their right to receive Social Security retirement benefits, not everyone is aware of their right to receive disability payments if they can no longer work and/or are low income. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has two programs, Social Security Disability or, technically, "Social Security Disability Insurance" (SSD or SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which pay those can't work due to physical or mental conditions.

SSDI is available if you have a sufficient work history to qualify for it, cannot work due to a medical problem, and expect your disability to prevent your working for at least a year. SSI is available if you have limited income, cannot work due to a medical problem, and expect your disability to prevent your working for at least a year (or if you are over 65).


How do I apply for SSDI?

You can apply for SSDI online at or by phoning or visiting your local Social Security Administration office. It’s best to make an appointment to avoid a long wait in the office.

What Information Will the SSA Ask me For?

You will be asked questions about your work history and how much you have earned recently, contact information for your employers, and how much you have earned at prior jobs (the SSA can help you with this, so it’s ok if you don’t remember all the details). You’ll want to have handy any medical records or reports you may have (SSA will ask your doctors for the rest) and information about all of your medical conditions. You’ll also be asked for information about workers’ compensation or other related benefits you may be receiving.

Medical Information

You will have to complete what is called an Adult Disability Report. If you are applying online you can fill it out yourself, otherwise you will be asked to answer these questions by the Social Security field representative conducting your application interview. The Adult Disability Report asks specific questions about your disability and how it impacts your day to day life as well as your ability to work. The more specific examples you give of how your condition affects your activities, the better.

For example, instead of saying “I have to rest frequently when walking,” you might say “I have to stop and rest every 10 minutes while walking.” Instead of saying “I can’t cook anymore,” you might say “It hurts too much for stand for very long, so I’m not able to cook.” Instead of “I can’t even read a book,” you might say “My eyes start to hurt if I try to read,” or “I can’t concentrate for longer than a paragraph or two,” or “I can’t remember what I’ve read.”

Be honest and be specific. Don’t exaggerate your difficulties, but don’t minimize them either. If you are still able to complete certain tasks but have to force yourself through a lot of pain to do so, and then have to rest afterwards, make sure to explain that.


How to Apply for SSI

You can apply by phone, in person, or online. If you want to apply in person, it is best to call ahead and make an appointment, otherwise you may have a very long wait.

To apply by phone call, 800-772-1213. If you are hard of hearing, use TTY 800-325-0778. A phone appointment will be scheduled for your application. Or, when you call, you can ask for an appointment at your local SSA office.

What Information Will I Need to Apply for SSI?

You will need to income documentation, like pay stubs or a tax return, bank statements, information about any investments, deeds for homes other than your personal residence, title to your car, the cost of rent or mortgage, monthly expenses (food, utilities, and so on), and other information.

You will also need to provide your job history, medical records or reports you may have, and contact information for all of your doctors. If you are applying for a disabled child, you will be asked for contact information for teachers or care providers.

Application Tips for Disability Benefits

Don’t delay applying for benefits. It takes time for your application to be processed and, even after approval, you may not be paid your benefits immediately. Keep copies of everything you submit to the SSA. And if you don’t have all the documents you need, submit your application anyway. You can always provide the remainder of the documents later.

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