We are sometimes asked why a person’s age is so important in determining whether that person is disabled. The reason has to do with certain rules that the agency uses to help judges be more consistent in their decision-making, known as Medical —Vocational Rules, or grid rules. The underlying premise of these rules is that a person has less occupational mobility as he ages. Occupational mobility is a person’s ability to change from one occupation to another. For example, a truck driver, who cannot get a commercial drivers’ license, because he has insulin-dependent diabetes, may have to find a different occupation. The younger that truck driver is, the easier it is for him move from truck driving into a different occupation.
Grid rules come into play after the person claiming to be disabled has established that he cannot do the work that he has performed during the past 15 years. With that, the agency has to identify occupations that the individual might be able to perform, as an alternative to the work that has been performed in the past (known as past relevant work).
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Broadly speaking, the rules provide that a person who has always done light work for the past fifteen years, but now would have to sit to work, is disabled as of age 50 (unless he has skills that transfer into seated jobs). That means, for example, that a person who has been a waiter, but cannot stand and walk enough to continue to do so, does not have to reinvent himself as a factory worker sitting and inspecting parts, or a telephone order taker.
The rules become even more liberal at age 55. At age 55, a person who has always performed work at the medium exertional level, for example, a forklift operator, is considered to be disabled if he is limited to light exertion. This means that the forklift operator might have the exertional capacity to work in a kitchen, or perform janitorial work, but is still considered to be disabled. These rules explain why age is so important in determining disability. When a claimant is under age 50, he has the very difficult task of proving that he cannot sit and work.