This page is optimized for a taller screen. Please rotate your device or increase the size of your browser window.

Exploring Lessons from SSA Disability Policy Demonstrations


  • SSA wanted to summarize lessons from decades of demonstration research.
  • Abt engaged 30 disability experts to synthesize the evidence.
  • Abt convened a meeting and published a volume of findings.
The Challenge

Since the 1980s, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has tested many new policies and programs to improve work outcomes for Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries and Supplemental Security Income recipients. These demonstrations covered changes to benefit rules, informational notices, and a variety of employment services and program waivers. Together, these demonstrations have generated substantial evidence about intervention implementation, impacts, and costs. To date, the findings from this research are dispersed across numerous technical reports, obscuring the cross-study takeaways. Only limited work has considered the evidence as a whole to draw lessons about what we know, knowledge gaps, policy implications, and directions for the future.

The Approach

To conduct a comprehensive review of lessons learned from the body of evidence SSA has generated, Abt collaborated with SSA to develop a set of topics and commissioned nine papers.  Abt engaged with more than 30 disability and social policy researchers to serve as lead authors and expert reviewers. Abt convened a virtual State of the Science meeting to review the findings, then compiled, edited, and published the papers in a meeting volume. Abt promoted and disseminated the meeting volume through Abt’s and SSA’s websites, press releases, targeted national media outreach, and social media.

The Results

Abt convened a State of the Science Meeting on June 15, 2021, attended by more than 400 policymakers, researchers, and other stakeholders. Leading disability and social policy researchers presented and discussed findings from the commissioned papers, highlighting lessons from SSA’s demonstrations and directions for the future. Abt published recordings of the meeting proceedings on the event microsite. Abt published Lessons from SSA Demonstrations for Disability Policy and Future Research, which synthesizes lessons about policies, programs, and other operational decisions that could provide effective supports for disability beneficiaries and recipients who want to work.