Is OCD a Disability? Your Questions Answered
How is a disability defined in the US?
Disability has many different definitions, but for this article, we will focus on the legal definition. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — an achievement of those involved in the Disability Rights Movement — is a law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination in the United States. According to the ADA’s definition, a person with a disability has “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”
This definition includes people who “have a record of such an impairment, even if they are not currently impaired,” as well as people who are “regarded” as having a disability, which means that their impairment does not meet the above definition, but it limits their activities as a result of other people’s attitudes or actions toward them (such as stigma).
Is OCD a disability under the ADA?
It’s important to note that the ADA does not include an exhaustive list of health conditions that they consider to be a disability. However, they provide examples, which you can find here. While OCD is not explicitly listed, the ADA notes that they cover many other disabilities not included on their list. Again, any health condition that causes severe impairment to a person’s daily life could be considered a disability under the ADA’s definition.
So, is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) considered a disability under the ADA? The answer is yes; it can meet the ADA’s requirements.
OCD is considered to be a type of mental illness, which are included under the “mental impairment” section of the ADA’s definition. Specifically, OCD is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by unwanted or intrusive thoughts (also called obsessive thoughts or “obsessions”) and repetitive behaviors or rituals (also called compulsive behaviors or “compulsions”). While OCD looks different for every person, OCD symptoms can have a profound and debilitating impact on a person’s daily life.
If your OCD symptoms are severe enough to limit your functioning in one or more areas of your daily life, then your OCD is considered a disability under the ADA.
How do you qualify for disability if you have OCD?
If you have OCD, you can qualify for disability under either the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Both the SSDI and SSI are federally funded by the Social Security Administration (SSA), and they both provide disability benefits.
The SSA provides financial protection to many Americans, including those with disabilities – and the SSA lists OCD as a disability that qualifies for disability benefits. Below, we provide an overview of how to qualify and apply for these Social Security Administration benefits:
- Qualifying for SSDI Benefits with OCD: To qualify for SSDI benefits, you must meet their five-step criteria, including earning enough work credits through past work history. While the amount needed for a work credit varies yearly, in 2023, you earn one credit for each $1,640 in wages or self-employment income. The number of work credits you need depends on your age when your disability begins, but SSDI notes that you generally need 40 credits to qualify, and 20 must be earned in the last 10 years. In addition to work credits, your OCD needs to be considered “severe,” meaning that it significantly impacts or limits your ability to work for at least one year, and it needs to prevent you from doing the work you did previously. The SSDI program uses precise criteria, so if you do not currently qualify for SSDI, you may be eligible for the SSI program instead.
- Qualifying for SSI Benefits with OCD: SSI is a need-based program, meaning that you are required to meet certain income restrictions. SSI is generally for individuals who earn at most $1,913 from work wages or self-employment income each month. However, this limit increases for couples and parents applying on behalf of their children. To learn more about SSI’s requirements for different applicants, you can visit their website.
In addition to the above requirements, you are also required to prove that you have a medical history or medical diagnosis of OCD and that your OCD meets the SSA’s disability guidelines. The SSA publishes a list of health conditions that qualify for disability benefits. OCD is included in section 12.06, under “anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders.”
When you apply for disability benefits, the SSA will check your experiences with OCD against its list of criteria to determine if you meet them. To learn more about the requirements, visit SSA.gov.
You can apply for Social Security Disability benefits online or at your local Social Security office.
What qualifies as a reasonable accommodation for OCD?
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requires all employers to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees unless it would impose an “undue hardship” on the business.
If you are living with OCD, you are entitled to reasonable accommodation in school and the workplace. Examples of reasonable school accommodations can include extended time on tests, audio recordings of lectures and books, and preferential seating. Examples of reasonable workplace accommodations include flexibility around punctuality and meeting deadlines, as well as partnering to reduce and manage distractions in the workplace.
It’s important to note that if your employer discriminates against you because of your OCD disability claim, even after you have provided evidence of your OCD, you can file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.
What happens if my disability claim is rejected?
If you submit a disability claim and the Social Security Administration rejects your claim, you’re not alone. The SSA denies an estimated 60% of initial disability applications. If you are denied benefits, you can appeal the decision. Although it can be costly, you can consider hiring a Social Security attorney or advocate to help you with the claim process.