How Impairment-Related Work Expenses Affect Social Security Disability

Disability-related expenses can lower your income enough to qualify for Social Security disability benefits or SSI.

By , Contributing Author

When Social Security assesses whether you're eligible for disability benefits, it will measure your income, but it won't count certain expenses that have to do with your disability.

For Social Security disability (SSDI) and SSI, the Social Security will deny your application if you are doing a substantial amount of work. For 2023, "substantial gainful activity" (SGA) is defined as earning $1,470 per month.

Also, to get disability benefits through the SSI program, your income must be below a certain income limit. If your income is below this amount but you are working, some of your work income will be subtracted from your benefit.

For all these calculations, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will exclude the cost of certain impairment-related work expenses (IRWE) from your earnings. This may help you to be eligible for benefits when you first apply or to reduce the impact of your earnings on your SSI benefits if you have already been approved.

What Are Impairment-Related Work Expenses?

Impairment-related work expenses (IRWEs) are what you pay for special disability-related items or services you need to work. (Disability recipients may work as long as they earn less than the levels discussed above.) Generally, the SSA does not exclude non-work-related disability expenses from your income when considering your eligibility. As long as you use the item or service for work, the SSA will exclude the cost of IRWEs from your earnings, even if you also use them when you aren't working.

Here are the general requirements for items or services to be excluded as IRWE:

  • You must need the item or service to be able to work.
  • You must need the item or service because of your mental or physical impairment.
  • You are not being reimbursed for the cost of the item or service by another source (like Medicare, Medicaid, or a private insurance company), and
  • The cost of the item or service is reasonable (compared to what is normally charged for the item or service in the area where you live).

What Items or Services Can Be Impairment-Related Work Expenses?

Here is a chart that shows examples of which expenses can be excluded from your income as IRWEs and which cannot be excluded.

Type of Expense


Not Deductible


  • The cost of changes you have to make to your car so that you can drive it (even if you also use the vehicle for personal purposes). For example, adding hand-controlled braking or acceleration devices.
  • The cost of what you have to pay someone to drive you to work because your disability prevents you from taking public transportation.
  • The base cost of your car.
  • The costs of changes made to your car that aren't related to your disability. For example, new paint or high performance tires.
  • Public transportation costs. For example, bus or cab fare.

Attendant Care Services

  • The cost of paying someone to perform services for you at work. For example, hiring someone to type for you.
  • The cost of paying someone to help you get ready for work and to help you when you get home from work. For example, assistance getting dressed, bathing, or preparing meals (even if these activities also incidentally help your family).
  • The cost of paying someone to help you with day-to-day activities. For example, cleaning your house, grocery shopping, or doing your laundry.
  • The cost of paying someone to help you with caring for other people in your family. For example, child or adult daycare services.

Medical Devices

  • The cost of medical devices. For example, wheelchairs, dialysis equipment, crutches, pacemakers, respirators, traction equipment, walkers, and braces.
  • The cost of any device you use that isn't related to your medical condition and that doesn't enable you to work.

Changes to your home

  • If you work outside of your home, changes you have to make to the exterior part of your house that allow you to get to the street or to your transportation. For example, ramps or railings.
  • If you work at home, changes you have to make to adapt it to the needs of your disability. For example, widening the doorways or lowering counters.
  • If you work outside of your home, any changes you make inside your house, even if they are to accommodate your disability.
  • If you are self-employed and work at home, then any modifications you made to your home that will be deducted as a business expense when determining SGA.

In addition, if you own a service animal that makes it possible for you to work, the costs of your animal's license, food, and veterinary care can be considered IRWEs.

Your mileage to and from work is also deductible from your earnings, at the IRS standard mileage rate. Even if an item or service that you use isn't listed here, you should contact the SSA to see if it qualifies as an IRWE.

Read on to find out how IRWEs and unincurred business expenses are deducted from your countable income.

Updated January 4, 2023

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