Because multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic condition that can be unpredictable with symptoms that can flare up suddenly, the disease may be problematic when it comes to work.

Symptoms like impaired vision, fatigue, pain, balance problems, and muscle control difficulty could require extended periods away from a job, or hinder your ability to look for employment.

Fortunately, disability insurance can replace some of your income.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, approximately 40 percent of all people with MS in the United States rely on some form of disability insurance, either through private insurance or through the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) is a federal disability insurance benefit for those who have worked and paid into social security.

Keep in mind that SSDI is different from supplemental security income (SSI). That program is for low-income people who didn’t pay enough into social security during their working years to qualify for SSDI. So, if that describes you, consider looking into SSI as a starting point.

In either case, benefits are limited to those who are unable to “perform substantial gainful activity,” according to Liz Supinski, director of data science at the Society for Human Resource Management.

There are limits on how much a person can earn and still collect, she says, and it’s about $1,200 for most people, or around $2,000 per month for those who are blind.

“That means most people who are able to qualify for disability benefits are not working for others,” says Supinski. “Self-employment is common among both disabled workers and those with disabilities severe enough to qualify for benefits.”

Another consideration is that even though you might have private disability insurance, which is usually obtained as part of workplace benefits, that doesn’t mean you can’t apply for SSDI, Supinski says.

Private insurance is typically a short-term benefit and usually offers smaller amounts to replace income, she notes. Most people use that type of insurance as they’re applying for SSDI and waiting for their claims to be approved.

The common symptoms of MS that can interfere with your ability to work is covered under three distinct sections of the SSA’s medical criteria:

  • neurological: includes issues related to muscle control, mobility, balance, and coordination
  • special senses and speech: includes vision and speaking issues, which are common in MS
  • mental disorders: includes the type of mood and cognitive issues that can occur with MS, such as difficulty with depression, memory, attention, problem-solving, and information processing

To make sure the process is streamlined, it’s helpful to compile your medical paperwork, including date of original diagnosis, descriptions of impairments, work history, and treatments related to your MS, says Sophie Summers, a human resources manager at software firm RapidAPI.

“Having your information in one place will help you prepare your application, and can also highlight what type of info you still need to get from your healthcare provider,” she says.

Also, let your doctors, colleagues, and family know you’ll be going through the application process, Summers adds.

The SSA gathers input from healthcare providers as well as the applicant, and sometimes asks for additional information from family members and co-workers to determine if you qualify as disabled based on SSA criteria.

Claiming disability benefits can be a complex and lengthy process, but taking the time to understand the criteria used by the SSA can help you get closer to getting a claim approved.

Consider reaching out to representatives at your local SSA field office, since they can help you apply for SSDI and SSI benefits. Make an appointment by calling 800-772-1213, or you can also complete an application online at the SSA website.

Also useful is the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s guide for Social Security benefits, which can be downloaded for free on their website.


Elizabeth Millard lives in Minnesota with her partner, Karla, and their menagerie of farm animals. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including SELF, Everyday Health, HealthCentral, Runner’s World, Prevention, Livestrong, Medscape, and many others. You can find her and way too many cat photos on her Instagram.