Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can significantly disrupt a person’s life. If the symptoms prevent someone from working, socializing, or participating in typical activities, certain organizations may consider it a disability. Some people with the condition could get additional help or benefits if they meet certain criteria.
There are different ways of defining “disability.” The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not consider IBS to be a disability. However, if a person has severe IBS that affects their ability to work, they could qualify for disability benefits from the SSA anyway.
In this article, learn whether IBS is a disability, the criteria for SSA benefits, what rights someone with IBS has, and how to apply for financial assistance.
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From this perspective, severe IBS could be a disability. In cases where a person often has severe pain or diarrhea, for example, it may be difficult to go out, work, socialize, or concentrate.
These symptoms can also have a knock-on effect on other aspects of health. For example, IBS may contribute to fatigue, nutritional deficiencies, and mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression. This can add to difficulties engaging in daily life.
However, there are different ways of thinking about disability. For the United States government to consider a person legally disabled, they must pass certain criteria.
The SSA is an organization that offers financial assistance to people with disabilities. They determine who is entitled to this aid according to the medical condition they have. However, IBS is not one of the conditions they cover.
The digestive system disorders that the SSA does consider to be disabilities are:
- gastrointestinal hemorrhage
- hepatic (liver) dysfunction
- inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- short bowel syndrome
Despite this, a person with IBS may still receive benefits from the SSA if they can prove their condition prevents them from performing meaningful work. This includes work they were previously able to perform but no longer can or work they could potentially train for.
To prove this, an individual may need to show the SSA medical documentation and prove that they are unable to perform physical work. They may wish to seek help from an attorney to help them build a strong case.
Another type of assistance people with disabilities can get is accommodations that help them continue to work, get around, and access services. These accommodations are legally necessary under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This piece of civil rights legislation aims to give people with disabilities fairer opportunities.
Unlike the SSA, which lists the specific conditions it considers to be disabilities, the ADA defines disability as any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. A person has protection under the ADA if they have any form of disability.
Because of the ADA, discrimination against people with disabilities is illegal. This means a company cannot fire an employee purely for having a disability. They must also:
- not exclude people on the basis of disability during recruitment
- have examinations and screening tests that are accessible for people with disabilities
- provide “reasonable accommodations” to existing employees
- give employees with disabilities the same rewards and privileges as employees without disabilities
The ADA also requires that people with disabilities have equal access to:
- public spaces
- government services
If a person with IBS can no longer work, they may wish to apply for benefits online, by phone, or in person. They can apply for disability benefits online here.
Before someone applies for disability benefits, they may wish to look at the Adult Disability Checklist. This lists the things they may need to include in their application.
To apply, a person will need to include the following personal information:
- their date and place of birth
- their marital status
- the names and dates of birth of any children
- details of their current and prior employers
- their self-employment details if they are, or recently were, self-employed
- their bank details
- an alternate contact
Individuals also need to include other work and medical information, including:
- how their medical condition has affected their work
- their job history
- details about doctors, healthcare professionals, hospitals, and clinics
- details about other medical records
- their education and training
Once a person has this information, they can apply. The application process generally follows these steps:
- They gather the information and documents they need to apply and complete and submit their application.
- The SSA reviews the person’s application. They will check that they have met some of the basic requirements for disability benefits and that they have worked for enough years to qualify.
- If relevant, the SSA will also evaluate the individual’s current work activities.
- Once the SSA has processed the application, they will forward the case to the Disability Determination Services office in the person’s state.
- The state agency will then make the disability determination decision.
If the SSA denies a person’s disability benefits claim, they will provide a letter explaining the decision. If the individual disagrees with this decision, they could lodge an appeal. They can do this up to 60 days after receiving notice of the decision.
There are four levels of appeal:
- Reconsideration: A reconsideration is a complete review of the person’s claim. The individual who reviews the reconsideration will be someone who did not take part in the initial determination. They will look at the evidence from the first determination and any new evidence that the person supplies.
- Hearing: If a person disagrees with the result of their reconsideration, they can request a hearing with an administrative law judge.
- Review by the Appeals Council: If a person disagrees with the hearing’s decision, they can request a review by Social Security’s Appeals Council online. The Appeals Council may deny or dismiss the request if it determines that the hearing decision is in accordance with Social Security law and regulations. It may also issue a new decision or return it to an administrative law judge for further action.
- Federal Court review: If someone disagrees with the Appeals Council’s decision or cannot get a review, they can file a civil action in a federal district court. This is the final level of the appeals process and involves a fee.
The letter from the SSA with the disability determination will explain which level of appeal a person can use.
The ADA requires that people with disabilities have access to public spaces and services. Because of this, individuals with IBS could ask for accommodations that help them live their lives.
In the workplace, the ADA states that employers must offer “reasonable accommodations” that enable those with disabilities to continue working. Some examples of reasonable accommodations that may help a person with IBS include:
- working from home
- part-time hours or a modified work schedule
- easy access to a restroom
- frequent breaks
- stress reduction, such as a quiet working environment
However, the ADA states that these accommodations should not impose “undue hardship” on the employer. This means they should not be significantly difficult or expensive.
Speaking with an employer about IBS may be difficult. However, it is important to note that a person with a disability has a legal entitlement to this help. They can ask for accommodations even if the SSA has rejected their application for disability benefits.
A person can ask for accommodations in person or in writing. Having a written record can be useful in case they receive unfair treatment.
Additionally, if someone is applying for a new job, they do not have to disclose that they have a medical condition or disability upfront unless they wish to do this. If necessary, they can ask for accommodations after they get the job.
If a person is unsure how to ask their employer about accommodations, or their employer has rejected their request, then they may wish to speak with the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). JAN provides free and confidential guidance to people who require workplace accommodations.
People with IBS can use other tools and resources to make daily activities easier. One of these is an “I Can’t Wait” card. These cards signal to individuals that a person needs to skip the queue for a bathroom for medical reasons.
Many organizations providing “I Can’t Wait” cards cater to people with IBD rather than IBS, but individuals can ask their doctor if it is possible to obtain one.
Another type of protection those with IBS may have comes from the Restroom Access Act, or Ally’s Law. This law allows people with medical conditions to access employee-only bathrooms when a public bathroom is not available. However, it is currently only applicable in certain states.
Additionally, several support groups may help a person with IBS. These include the IBS Patient Support Group, a public education and advocacy community for people with IBS. They offer online resources, community forums, podcasts, and more.
IBS is a chronic illness that varies in its symptoms and severity. For some with severe IBS, the symptoms may be debilitating. If they prevent a person from doing typical activities, certain organizations may consider the condition to be a disability.
However, different organizations have different ways of defining disability. The SSA, which provides disability benefits, does not consider IBS a disability. However, a person with the condition could still qualify for SSA benefits if they can prove they cannot perform meaningful work.
For those who can work, employers must provide reasonable accommodations under the ADA. Other protections and tools a person with IBS may be able to use include the Restroom Access Act and “I Can’t Wait” cards.