Guide to Rights for People with a Disability in the U.S.

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?

There are two main types of disability benefits: those provided by the government, and those provided by an employer (or yourself if you are self-employed).

Government 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”).

  1. SSDI pays benefits to you and certain family members if you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes.
  2. 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.

Employment-based disability benefits

Many employers provide Short-Term Disability and/or Long-Term Disability insurance. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says 35-40% of employees had one or both of these benefits as of March 2020, and most of them did not have to pay for it (employer paid).

If an employee is denied disability benefits they are entitled to, they have up to 6 months after denial to sue. That said, the Department of Labor says the clock stopped ticking during the Covid national emergency.

Self-employed people may purchase their own disability policy. Disability attorneys say these are worth their weight in gold, as claims are almost always approved. If they are not approved, you can sue company for bad faith, and you have up to 2 years to sue.

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.


Get Legal Help now.

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