Poster Paper: Fresh Perspectives: Using Behavioral Science & Claimant Feedback to Improve the Disability Application Process

Saturday, November 5, 2016
Columbia Ballroom (Washington Hilton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Megan Ann Stanley, Northwestern University

Application forms are one of the most critical parts of any benefit program, serving as an entry point for all beneficiaries. This makes their design incredibly important, as they must gather necessary information while being easy to understand, relevant, and useful to the applicant.

In order to apply for Social Security disability benefits, claimants must fill out 43 pages of demographic information, medical history, and details about previous jobs. While these forms are undoubtedly necessary, there has been very little research into their design, ease of use, and applicability to non-physical disabilities. My grant-funded research between 2015 and 2016 studied these forms- both quantitatively and qualitatively- and how claimants and providers understand them. This feedback led to suggested form revisions to help the Social Security Administration (SSA) serve the public through a stronger, more responsive disability program, while also reducing the burden on the claimant.

Through focus group feedback and the application of behavioral science, I have made specific changes to two of the main application forms (SSA 3368 and SSA 3373). My revisions seek to address and reduce barriers through simple wording changes, questions that are inclusive of all forms of disability, and an explicit focus on obtaining information regarding changes in functioning due to disabling condition(s) in the most efficient manner possible. These changes led to demonstrated improvement in understanding, which I believe, if adopted, will lead to more accurate answers and less time burden for claimants, SSA, and disability examiners.