Social Security decides whether you are disabled using a five-step process called the Sequential Evaluation Process. The fifth step is focused on whether or not an applicant, while perhaps not able to do their old occupation, still could be able to do a different kind of job that exists in our national economy.

This is a complex process, but a part of it involves a tool called the Medical Vocational Guidelines, also called “The Grids”, which helps guide the SSA in determining disability.

When an applicant’s conditions don’t meet or equal a medical impairment listing and/or the applicant is found to not be able to do “past relevant work,” Social Security will then use the “The Grids”, to help determine disability.

The Grids Help Simplify A Complex Analysis

Using the grids requires Social Security to determine the physical capabilities of the applicant, despite his or her conditions, and cross reference those abilities with the applicant’s age, education and ability to do past relevant work.

Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)

The first step in using the grids to determine the level of work an applicant can currently perform. The level of work is called a residual functional capacity (RFC). There are 5 RFCs:

  • Sedentary Work;
  • Light Work;
  • Medium Work;
  • Heavy Work; and
  • Very Heavy Work.

An applicant, however, can only be found disabled using the grids if he or she has a sedentary, light or medium RFC. How an RFC is used can be found here.


Social security recognizes that the older an individual is, the more difficult it may be for an individual to adjust to new work. There are three age groups:

  • 18-49 years old = “younger individual”
  • 50-54 years old = “approaching advanced age”
  • 55 and older = “advanced age”


The amount of education is important in determining disability. Social Security finds that the more education an applicant completed, the easier it is for the applicant to find new work.

Previous Work

Depending on the past work of an applicant, he or she may have acquired skills helpful to finding new work. Social Security will classify the skill level of an applicant’s past work and determine if the past work provided any skills that can be transferred to other work.

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A Finding of “Disabled” by the Grids

The chart below shows all the ways in which an applicant can be found disabled by Social Security using the grids:

The complete grids can be found here.

About Citizens Disability, LLC:

Since 2010, Citizens Disability has been America’s premier Social Security Disability institution. Our services include helping people in applying for SSDI benefits, managing the process through Reconsideration, and representing people in person at their Hearing, and if necessary, bringing their case to the Appeals Council. Our mission is to give a voice to the millions of Americans who are disabled and unable to work, helping them receive the Social Security Disability benefits to which they may be entitled. Learn more about us and disability benefits like SSDI & SSI or give us a call (800)492-3260.

Citizens Disability is committed to helping keep people safe from fraud. We will never ask for personal details to start an SSDI application over Facebook or social media. We will only ask for certain details, in private messages, to confirm the identity of a client in a customer service situation. The only way to begin an SSDI application with us is on the phone, through a number found on our website, or one of our clearly-marked advertisements. Please keep your personal details safe, don't share them in a public forum, or with individuals who solicit your information.