Guide to Rights for People with a Disability in the United States
The following laws apply throughout the U.S. Many states and cities have additional protections and benefits for disabled persons. See our Guide to California disability rights.
1. Disability Benefits
Do I qualify for disability benefits?
If you become permanently disabled (as defined below), you may be able to get money from the federal government. The government pays disability benefits under two programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (aka “SSDI”) and Supplemental Security Income (aka “SSI”).
- SSDI pays benefits to you and certain family members if you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes.
- SSI pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources.
In general, the medical requirements are the same under both programs and disability is determined by the same process.
What counts as disabled?
You may qualify for SSDI and/or SSI if a disability renders you:
- unable to do work you did previously
- unable to do other types of work
AND your disability has lasted or is expected to last at least 1 year or to result in death.
In particular, your condition must significantly limit your ability to do basic work such as lifting, standing, walking, sitting, and remembering – for at least 12 months. Generally your condition must be on the “Listing of Impairments” (or be as severe as one of the listings), which include various physical and mental disorders.
What information do I need to provide?
To apply for disability benefits from the federal government, you will need to provide information about your medical condition, work, and education history. See the Social Security Administration (SSA) website for more info. Or Get Legal Help now.
2. Service animals
What is a service animal?
A service animal is one that helps a person with a disability do certain tasks. For example, guide dogs help blind people move around. It is different from an “emotional support animal” or therapy pet (see below).
Where can I bring my service animal?
If you have a disability you can bring your service animal to all areas of public facilities and private businesses where members of the public, program participants, clients, or customers are allowed, including restaurants, hotels, bars, etc. However, a facility can ban service animals if there is a legitimate safety risk.
A facility is allowed to remove a service animal if the animal is out of control. A service animal must have a harness, leash or other tether, unless the handler is unable to use a tether because of a disability or the use of a tether would interfere with the service animal’s ability to safely perform its work or tasks. In these cases, the service animal must be under the handler’s control through voice commands, hand signals, or other effective means. If a facility bans a service animal, the individual with a disability must still be offered the opportunity to obtain goods, services, and accommodations without having the service animal on the premises.128 CFR Sec. 36.302(c) See more info here.
Does my landlord need to allow my service animal to live with me?
Yes.2Federal Fair Housing Act
3. Emotional Support Animal
What is an emotional support animal or therapy pet?
A therapy pet is an animal that helps calm a person’s anxiety, depression, or loneliness. They are NOT considered service animals and are not given the same level of protection as service animals.
Where can I bring my emotional support animal?
You can bring your therapy animal to live with you in your apartment,3Fair Housing Act or on a plane, for free.4Air Carrier Access Act, at 14 CFR Part 382 But you must have a letter from a health professional.
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