How are you declared legally disabled?

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A disability is defined as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The procedure required to have that disability legally recognised varies according to the agency, institution or organisation from which you are seeking a legal declaration of disability.

The declaration often is a prerequisite to obtaining life-changing support and assistance. Knowing what you need to do to have your disability legally declared is the first step to a better life.

Infants and Youth

Legal declaration of disability can begin as early as birth if parents apply with the Social Security Administration. To qualify, the child's condition, whether physical or mental, must seriously limit his activities. The condition, which can be one problem or a combination of several problems, must be expected to last at least a year or to result in death.

Parents furnish copies of the child's medical records and prescriptions, as well as any Individualized Education Program plans and Individualized Family Service plans, and sign release forms authorising Social Security officials to obtain any records they don't have. The official also interviews the parents. A declaration of disability is determined after a thorough review of all information and may take as long as six months.

Child Find

In accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, state school systems must locate, evaluate and identify children with disabilities. They coordinate with local agencies, early childhood education providers, public health providers, family support specialists and parents in this effort. Any person within this group can refer a child for evaluation by completing a referral form showing that the child may have a disability that affects his ability to learn.

A child study team reviews the referral to determine the need for a comprehensive evaluation, then devises an evaluation plan. The child's parents must give their consent before the evaluation can begin. The plan is tailored to further determine the type of disability the child has and whether her condition will affect her performance in school. It also yields information as to what individualised instruction, services and accommodations are needed.

Parents can initiate an evaluation. They may need to consult with a psychiatrist or physician, who likely will want the parents to obtain written information from teachers and others who interact with their child. This information is given to the psychiatrist or physician, who also interviews or examines the child himself and provides a report of his findings for the parents to submit to the school. This report will contain a determination of the child's disability and can be useful in helping the parents get the assistance their child needs.

Vocational Rehabilitation

Veterans with service-connected disabilities, as well as young adults who grew up with a disability, can make use of their current legal declaration of disability to gain employment training through vocational rehabilitation services. Individuals also can apply to be tested if they suffer from a disability that was never identified. Schools, insurance companies and the federal government all make use of the services offered by the state and local offices of the Vocational Rehabilitation Division to test individuals for levels of disability, as well as to determine whether various types of rehabilitative activities and training could enable a particular individual to return to work.

A person who has a disability will be greatly affected by the determinations of the Vocational Rehabilitation Division, as well as by the reports of doctors and psychiatrists. Should you undergo such testing and examination and be found totally disabled or unable to work for a period longer than six months, you will want to apply for Social Security disability benefits.


You are considered to have a disability under workers' compensation if you are unable to do the work that you could before you became disabled. The disability must be due exclusively to something that happened at work.

Consult with an attorney before filing for Social Security disability benefits or accepting a settlement offer from workers' compensation or other insurance companies. Choose an attorney whose first consultation is free and listen carefully to all advice.