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Vocational Expert: Understanding the Plight of the Disabled

At the Social Security hearing, an administrative law judge often enlists the assistance of a vocational expert who has the job of figuring out what occupations are available for people with certain disabilities. If the disability by itself is not severe, it is up to this expert to determine how much the disability would impede the ability to work.

Often, the expert will rely on his experience and knowledge of the field when testifying at the hearing. To support his opinions on what jobs are available for the disabled, he will probably use a Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). For the most part, the DOT explains the function, skill level and exertion level required of most jobs in our economy. However, the questions is how well does this dictionary describe real life jobs? For example, a receptionist is coined a “sedentary” occupation, meaning one that requires limited standing and walking. However, in an average American office, we see receptionists barely getting sitting time as they pull files, fax paper work, get coffee, send out and collect mail, attend to customers and do other clerical work that is not directly at their desks. This may be excruciatingly painful for someone with a back injury, or it can pose quite an obstacle for someone using a cane or walker.

Currently there are several programs being designed specifically to determine what jobs disabled people can do. One such project is the collaborated work of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) and the University of Illinois’ Disability Research Institute. These entities are in the process of creating a computer model that aims to help disabled people reenter the work force. They will spend one year analyzing the Social Security Administration’s data, specifically the vocational determinations. Their research will no doubt shed light on how well the Administration has understood the work capacity of disabled individuals.

The director of NCSA’s Cybercommunities Division stated, “our approach is to look at the data that Social Security actually has about their operations, and if this project succeeds like we expect it to, Social Security is ready with open arms to do lots of things like this.” The outlook is optimistic, so hopefully this project will provide tools to improve Social Security’s present system of vocational determinations for the disabled and help vocational experts key into exactly what kinds of obstacles people with disabilities face in the real ‘work’ world.

Always consult with an experienced social security disability professional when you need help getting your disability benefits.

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