How To Describe Your Activities When You Apply for Disability

Robin Mead


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When you apply for disability, you may be asked about your activities when you are filling out forms. Or this topic may come up when you are talking to your doctor. Or it may come up at your hearing.


Many disability lawyers recommend that every time you mention an activity you do, you also try to describe if there are any limitations you have or if there is any way that someone assists you.

If you are feeling stumped about how to do this, here’s a few ideas:


The first and most important rule is to always be honest about your activities. Be honest with Social Security, but also be honest with yourself.

Many people find it difficult to admit/acknowledge to themselves what their struggles are and how limited they have become. Adjusting to seeing yourself as disabled takes an enormous amount of strength, courage, and resilience.


The best pieces of advice I was given from my attorney: If you say “yes” you can do something, always follow it with “but” and explain everything you have to do in order to say “yes.”

For example: “Can you dress yourself?” “Yes, but I don’t wear anything with buttons because it is too difficult because of ____________. I also only wear elasticated pants for the same reason. On days I don’t go anywhere I just stay in my pajamas.”

– From Julie Marie


Some disability lawyers recommend to answer questions by describing your worst day, and giving an estimate of how often you have bad days.

One way you can do this by starting your sentences using the magic words. The magic words are “When my symptoms are severe…” Or “On days when I have very bad symptoms…” Or “When I am in pain” or “Without causing symptoms….”  Roselyn Uses the Magic Words

If you are describing your worst day, be sure to be very clear that you are not claiming it is always this way. It is better not to state that something is always true (unless it truly is always). How to Paint a Consistent Picture


Some people find it helpful to ask a friend or family member to go through the questions with them.

Someone you love may notice ways you are limited that you have not noticed yourself, or do not remember.


Here’s some questions you can ask yourself to help jog your memory or notice things you may not have thought about.

To start out, pick an activity you still do. It doesn’t matter what this activity is: brushing your teeth, feeding your cat, cooking a meal, watching tv, taking a walk, reading a book.

Got your activity all picked out now? Try picking one or more of these questions and see what comes up:

✨ Is there any ways that this activity is more difficult for you now than it was before you became sick?

✨ Do you need any help or assistance? Does anyone help you?

✨ Does any one help you some of the time or in small ways?

✨ How long can you do this activity?

✨ Is it the same amount of time as before you became sick?

✨ Do you need to stop and start?

✨ Do you do this less often than you used to?

✨ Does it take you a long time because you are slow?

✨ Do you need reminders? Do you have trouble remembering to do this activity?

✨ Do side effects from meds make it harder for you to do this activity?

✨ Do you use any medical equipment such as wheelchairs, cane, walkers, or shower chairs when you do this activity?

✨ Do you have any mental problems that make this activity harder (focus, memory, concentration)?

✨ Do side effects from meds give you any mental problems?

✨ Do you have any physical problems that make this harder – do you have pain or difficulty with bending, squatting, stretching, grasping, turning, or anything this activity requires?


Right now you may be thinking: “I can do these kinds of activities. I don’t have any problems brushing my teeth, feeding my cat, or reading a book.” That is why it is good that you are reading this page. A lot of times people have limitations they do not even notice or think about.

Don’t worry if you actually have no problems brushing your teeth. This is a kind of extreme example, just to get you thinking about things. Here are some examples of ways someone might have a harder time brushing their teeth since they became ill:

✨ I used to brush my teeth twice a day, but because of pain and fatigue, now do it just once a day.

✨ I used to stand up while brushing my teeth, but because of orthostatic instolerance, now I sit down while doing it.

✨ I used to use a toothpaste with a cap on it, but because of arthritis it’s hard to screw the cap on and off so I need a flip-top one.

✨I used to brush my teeth with my right hand, but since my arm is injured, now I can only do it with my left.

✨ My medication gives me a side effect that makes my hands tremble. My wife helps me by putting the toothpaste on the brush sometimes.

✨ I can no longer grasp small items like pens and toothbrushes, so I bought a special toothbrush with an extra wide handle.

✨ After taking my medication, I feel too dizzy to stand and brush my teeth. I have to wait at least an hour.


✨ You may find it helpful to keep a diary of all of your symptoms and problems for a week. (You will be surprised how long it gets!) How to Keep a Symptom Diary

✨ Great sample list of symptoms, limitations and typical day: Sample List of Limitations for Disability

Great Video by Jonathan Ginsberg. Watch me!!

How Does Social Security Define Sitting, Standing and Walking?

Learn More

How to Answer Tricky Questions at the Doctor’s Office

How to Answer Questions at Your Disability Hearing

How to Fill Out an Activities of Daily Living / Adult Function Report

How to Have Doctor Visits That Create Accurate Records

Updated April 2019. Please comment below with stories, ideas, questions or suggestions. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working. If you found this page helpful, please share it with others by pressing one of these magic little buttons: 

4 thoughts on “How To Describe Your Activities When You Apply for Disability”

  1. I went for a Mental Exam today, was hard to READ her the psychiatrist,..but after the 45 minute exam n questions she said SSI might send me for more counseling..what could that mean , is that usual..more than one psychiatrist exam??


  2. I appreciate your answers to a lot of difficult questions that I am now facing it seems to be taking a lot out of me you have helped me very much. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I obviously do not have the time or energy to hunt down too many places to find info on disability….. But your website is amazingly helpful. The colorful illustrations are also a great pick me up! I just have to tell you I have been reading things for awhile now and I am just so thankful for the time and energy you put into helping people!

    Liked by 2 people

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