Disabling Inequity: How the Social Model of Disability Resists Barriers to Social Security Disability Benefits



The number of people in the United States receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits has expanded significantly since the 1980s. However, current law still prevents many disabled Americans from receiving this financial assistance. The SSDI/SSI process relies on the medical model of disability, which locates the problem of not being able to work in an individual’s capacities. The social model of disability, on the other hand, suggests that inaccessible work environments, rather than a person’s physical limitations, exclude disabled people from gaining employment. In this Article, we use the social model to problematize the barriers that disabled people face when they seek SSDI/SSI benefits. In line with the social model, we highlight the narratives of disabled people seeking benefits to reveal the problems in the SSDI/SSI system. We conclude by utilizing the social model to suggest ways of reforming the SSDI/SSI process that recognize the agency of disabled people and are ultimately more humanizing than the current ways of thinking about and problematizing this process.

Suggested Reading