Not Just About the Injury: How SSD Grid Rules Influence Applicant Eligibility

Imagine that you’re out for a walk when you stop to have a chat with your neighbor, John, who is sitting on his front porch. John is a 50-year-old construction worker, and has worked with the same company, primarily moving heavy materials, since he dropped out of high school in 10th grade. But after recently injuring his back in a car accident, he is no longer able to lift heavy things, and hasn’t been able to return to work.

Later on, you run into Jane, another neighbor. She is in her twenties and finishing up her PhD work in mechanical engineering. She has been working with a local engineering firm, doing data entry. Unfortunately, she has developed painful carpal tunnel in her wrists, which has prevented her from returning to her job.

Upon hearing about the hardship of both John and Jane, you would probably tell them to look into applying for Social Security Disability. After all, both of them have injuries that prevent them from doing their jobs. But when the Social Security Administration considers applications for disability, injury isn’t the only factor they consider. Due to a set of factors called “grid rules,” John and Jane, even though they are both injured, could have vastly different results when applying for SSD.


The first SSD grid factor is age. Age plays an important role in determining disability, because an older person, who suffers from the natural effects of aging along with a disability, might have a harder time returning to work than a younger person might. The SSA breaks applicants into four age groups:

  • 18 to 49
  • 50 to 54
  • 50 to 60
  • 60 and over

The older someone is, the more likely they are to qualify for SSD. However, if someone is in a younger age group but has a debilitating condition, they may still qualify for benefits.

Education and Experience

The next two factors on the SSD grid are education and work experience. Since these factors often play a large role in finding a job, it makes sense that the SSA would take this into account. Education levels are divided into four categories:

  • Illiterate or unable to communicate in English
  • Limited education, usually 11th grade or less
  • High school education (including GED) or higher
  • Recent education that trained for a skilled job

If someone has a very low or limited education, they are more likely to qualify for SSD. This is because their lack of education may prevent them from finding a job that suits their limitations.

Similarly, the SSA also considers if the applicant is

  • Unskilled
  • Semi-skilled
  • Skilled

If an applicant has only performed unskilled work, they will not have the skills to work in other fields, even if those fields are more suitable to their limitations. On the other hand, if someone has a variety of job skills, they might have a better chance of finding a new job.

Work Capacity

The final SSD grid factor is the applicant’s residual functional capacity. This refers to the applicant’s ability to do work on a regular and sustained basis. Work is considered to be either:

  • Sedentary
  • Light
  • Medium
  • Heavy
  • Very heavy

If someone is an unskilled worker over the age of 50, with a limited education experience, they are probably more likely to qualify for SSD, because their work options are very limited. On the other hand, if someone is over the age of 50 but has more skills, they might be able to find a job that they can comfortably do, even with their disability.

So of your two neighbors, John likely has a better chance of qualifying for SSD. Because he is older, unskilled, and has a limited education, there are not as many job options available to him. With a higher education, Jane might be able to work another job, despite her carpal tunnel syndrome. Though they are both injured and unable to work, there are still many factors to play into determining disability, thanks to the SSD grid rules.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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