While it can seem difficult to prove that you are disabled under the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) guidelines, the process can become easier with time. This is because the SSA understands that its older applicants may have difficulty learning a new skill or transitioning to a new workplace later in their careers.

As a result, the SSA may not expect a claimant to be able to transition to a new line of work. The SSA considers a number of factors in coming to this decision which include:

  • An applicant’s age
  • Inability to perform work he or she has done in the past
  • An applicant’s education and physical abilities


If the claimant’s impairment or disability does not meet the severity level of the SSA’s medical listings, the SSA will then apply one of its medical vocational rules – otherwise known as a grid rule because the rules are presented in a grid format.

Deciding whether a grid rule will apply

The SSA considers several aspects about a claimant when determining if a grid rule will be applied to a certain case.

  • First, an applicant’s age is considered. Generally, an applicant must be over 50 years of age for a grid rule to apply.
  • Second, an applicant’s level of education is evaluated.
  • Third, an applicant’s skill level or residual functional capacity (RFC) is assessed to establish the level of work the applicant can perform based on his or her strength and endurance.


There are five categories of RFC : (1) sedentary work; (2) light work; (3) medium work; (4) heavy work; and (5) very heavy work.

Applying the Grid Rules for Light Work

The chart below outlines how the SSA would apply the grid rules to an applicant who was capable of performing light work. Light work involves lifting ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally. It also means that you can stand and walk for up to six  hours in an eight hour day.

RFC for Light Work for Claimant Approaching Advanced Age (50-54)

Education Skill Level Decision
Illiterate or unable to communicate in English Unskilled or none Disabled
Limited or less (at least literate and able to communicate in English) Unskilled or none Not disabled
Limited or less Skilled or semiskilled, skills not transferable Not disabled
Limited or less Skilled or semiskilled, skills transferable Not disabled
High school graduate or more Unskilled or none Not disabled
High school graduate or more Skilled or semiskilled, skills not transferable Not disabled
High school graduate or more Skilled or semiskilled, skills transferable Not disabled


Here is an example of how the SSA would apply these rules: The claimant was a 51-year-old man who was a high school graduate and who filed for disability based on a leg injury. He previously worked as a truck driver. The SSA classified his past work as semi-skilled work and determined that he had transferable skills he could use in another position. The SSA decided that despite the claimant’s injury that he still had the ability to do light work using his job skills that could be transferred to a less physically demanding job.

In a recent post we also discussed the grid rules for sedentary work. A good overview of medical listings and impairment vocational guidelines can be found here.

Are you wondering if you qualify for SSDI benefits? Get a free case evaluation by contacting us online or call #(847) 577-4476.