AARP Eye Center
Impairment-related work expenses, or IRWE, are what Social Security calls unreimbursed costs that people with disabilities incur to make it possible for them to work. For example, if you need paratransit service to get to the office or a guide dog to get around it, that's an IRWE.
And these expenses could play a role in your eligibility for disability benefits. The two such monthly benefits Social Security administers, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), are designed to provide financial support when you are largely unable to support yourself because of a medical condition. In Social Security's eyes, if you're able to earn more than a certain amount from work, you are not disabled.
AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.
But as part of its suite of programs and incentives to help people with disabilities get back into the workforce, Social Security allows SSI and SSDI recipients to subtract impairment-related work expenses from their income for the purpose of determining benefit eligibility.
How it works
In 2023, that level is $1,470 a month, $2,460 if you are blind. If you are making more than that when you file for disability, in most cases, Social Security will reject your claim, and it can stop payments you're already getting if your income rises above the cap.
However, in deciding if you are engaged in substantial gainful activity, Social Security will deduct impairment-related work expenses from your gross income. If that reduces your countable earnings below the cap, you can remain eligible for benefits.