education, and work experience will be considered when deciding the claimant's ability or inability to engage in substantial gainful activity.

SSA hopes to develop standardized functional assessment instruments that accurately measure a person's functional abilities and are universally accepted by all concerned parties. These instruments would measure an individual's abilities to perform a baseline of occupational demands. The agency further plans to develop a new standard to describe basic physical and mental demands of a baseline of work (i.e., work-related functions) that represent SGA and that exist in significant numbers in the national economy.


The research plan developed in 1995 by SSA has three components.2

  1. Information gathering (comprehensive review and analysis of existing information) on:

    • functional assessment instruments,

    • occupational classification systems,

    • disability determination processes used in other disability programs in the United States and other countries, and

    • the effects of age, education, and work experience (vocational factors) of the applicant.

  1. Integration, synthesis, and development of a prototype for a new disability decision process:

    • analysis and evaluation of the literature reviews undertaken in the first component, and

    • development of prototype(s).

  1. Testing, analyzing, and refining the prototype:

    • laboratory research and other small-scale testing; and

    • the Disability Evaluation Study: to estimate the size and characteristics of the population eligible for disability benefits, determine factors permitting them to work, and assess future changes in the prevalence of disability; and also to serve as one of the evaluation mechanisms for the decision process prototype(s).

Work on the first two components of the research plan is underway. Some information-gathering activities in the first component have been completed through specific contracted research. The remainder of the activity in the first component also is being conducted through contracts. Most of these latter contracts were negotiated at the end of fiscal year 1997.


SSA's research plan, along with a timeline for actions and completion dates, was published in the Federal Register in August 1996 and an update of the plan was published in November 1997 (SSA, 1996, 1997b).

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