A disability is defined as any condition that interferes with your capacity to do your job or other daily activities. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists three different dimensions to a disability:
- It impairs your body’s structure or function, such as losing your memory or vision.
- It limits movement, such as having trouble walking or seeing.
- It makes it hard to participate in daily activities, such as work or running errands.
Narcolepsy causes symptoms that include severe daytime sleepiness and a sudden loss of muscle control. And for some people, it can create enough limitations to qualify as a disability.
Research like a 2016 study has found that people living with narcolepsy are more likely to be unemployed than people without this condition. People living with narcolepsy who are employed often miss work or can’t do their jobs well because of the disorder.
If you can’t work because you’re living with narcolepsy, you may be able to receive Social Security disability benefits. The first step is to find out whether your symptoms qualify you for these payments.
Narcolepsy can meet the criteria for a disability in certain circumstances.
The extreme daytime sleepiness and sudden loss of muscle control that may come with narcolepsy can make it difficult to work. Some people even fall asleep without warning during the day.
These symptoms make certain jobs, including those that involve driving or operating heavy machinery, very dangerous.
People with a disability that limits their ability to work may be able to get Social Security disability benefits.
Narcolepsy isn’t on the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) list of qualified disorders. But if you get frequent bouts of sleep attacks, you may still be able to get benefits.
First, you’ll need to meet these criteria:
- You have at least one episode of narcolepsy each week.
- You’ve been on treatment for at least 3 months and you still have symptoms.
- Your condition has a significant impact on your ability to perform daily activities such as driving or following directions.
To qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you must have worked for a certain period of time before you became disabled.
In general, you’ll need to have worked for the last 5 out of the past 10 years; however, the requirement is shorter if you’ve worked for fewer than 10 years.
The sooner you apply for disability benefits, the better. It can take 3 to 5 months for the SSA to process your claim.
Before you apply, make sure that you have all the medical information the SSA will need from you. This includes:
- your diagnosis
- when your condition started
- the tests your doctor used to make your diagnosis, including EEGs, lab tests, and sleep studies
- your symptoms and how often you have them
- the list of medications you take and how they affect your symptoms
- a letter from the doctor who treats you stating how narcolepsy symptoms affect your ability to work, including walking, lifting, sitting, and remembering instructions
Your doctor can help you pull this information together.
If your claim is denied, you can appeal it. You have 60 days from the date on the denial notice to file an appeal. Note that there’s a good chance your first appeal will be denied — most claims don’t get approved on the first try.
If your appeal is denied, the next step is to have a hearing before a judge. Hiring a disability lawyer can increase your odds of having a successful outcome at the hearing.
If you still don’t get approval for disability benefits, consider asking your employer for accommodations. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, many companies are required to make changes that help their employees with disabilities do their jobs.
You might ask to adjust your work hours so you can sleep later. Or you could request frequent breaks during the day to take naps. Talk with your company’s human resources manager to find out what accommodations are available to you.
You can apply for Social Security disability in one of three ways:
- in-person at your local Social Security office
- online through the SSA website
- by calling 800-772-1213
In addition to getting help from your doctor, you can seek assistance from the following resources:
Narcolepsy isn’t one of the conditions the SSA considers a disability. But if your symptoms interfere with your ability to do your job, you may still qualify for benefits.
The Disability Benefits Help website offers a free evaluation to help you determine whether your condition is considered a disability.
Start by having a conversation with your doctor. Gather all of your medical information. Then, if possible, hire a lawyer to help steer you through the process.
If you can’t afford a lawyer, don’t worry — disability lawyers work on a contingency basis. That means your lawyer won’t get paid unless you win your claim. At that point, they’ll get a percentage of the back pay you’re awarded.