Is COPD Considered a Disability?

COPD is a progressive lung disease, meaning that it worsens over time. And while many people feel that the illness limits their ability to engage in activities both at home and at work, others find that with certain job-site modifications, they can hold a job and work both productively and comfortably. But how do you find such accommodations?

Disability and Work Accommodations

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), some chronic conditions are considered to be a disability, and if you are disabled, you have certain rights under federal law. In many cases, COPD can be considered a disability. The ADA says that a condition is considered a disability if it is an impairment that is “substantially limiting.” According to the ADA, an impairment is substantially limiting when it “prevents an individual from performing a major life activity or when it significantly restricts the condition, manner, or duration under which an individual can perform a major life activity.”

In other words, if breathlessness and other symptoms of COPD limit you from doing what is expected of you on the job, such as being able to walk as much as you are expected to—your employer must make “reasonable accommodations” so that you perform your job, as long as it doesn't pose a hardship for the employer. Some reasonable accommodations for someone with COPD might be:

  • a parking space close to the work site
  • being allowed to use a scooter or motorized cart to get around a large work area
  • permitting you to work from home
  • having a smoke free, perfume free, chemical free, and dust free workplace
  • providing you with advanced notice of construction and cleaning
  • schedule flexibility, with time allotted for necessary administration of medications and doctor's appointments

Social Security Benefits

It may be that despite such accommodations, your COPD is so severe that it prevents you from working at all. In this case, you may be entitled to Social Security disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has rules concerning eligibility for disability benefits. You must suffer from a condition that prevents you from earning more than $1,000 a month and this disability must have lasted or be expected to last for a minimum of 12 months.

There are also specific criteria pertaining to respiratory conditions, such as test results, treatments, and response to treatments.

You must apply for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration, either at an office or online. You need to provide documentation of all medical testing and treatment for your condition. The SSA may also send you to another doctor to obtain further evidence to support your claim.

The Social Security Disability application process is quite comprehensive. It may take as long as 3-5 months for a determination of your eligibility. Social Security disability benefits can be paid only after you've been disabled for a period of five months. Benefits will be paid beginning the sixth month after the date the SSA has determined you to be disabled.