Social Security’s Definition of Disability

August 1, 2019 • By

Reading Time: 1 Minute

Last Updated: July 16, 2021

" "This month marks the 29th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990. Disability affects millions of Americans. It can inhibit peoples’ quality of life and their ability to earn a living. Social Security is here to help you and your family, but there are strict criteria for meeting the definition of disability. The definition of disability under Social Security is also different than it is for other programs. We do not pay benefits for partial or short-term disability.

Social Security has a strict definition of disability. Social Security program rules assume that working families have access to other resources to provide support during periods of short-term disabilities, including workers’ compensation, insurance, savings, and investments.

Social Security is also required by law to review the current medical condition of people receiving disability benefits to make sure they continue to have a qualifying disability. Generally, if someone’s health hasn’t improved, or if their disability still keeps them from working, they will continue to receive benefits.

Social Security is a support system for people who cannot work because of a disability. You can learn more about Social Security’s disability program on our website and also by accessing our starter kits and checklists.

Did you find this Information helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!
See Comments

About the Author

Mike Korbey, Deputy Commissioner for Communications

Mike Korbey, Deputy Commissioner for Communications


  1. Tonya L.

    Well I have COPD and a bulging disc in my neck and have medical proof of these things and have been turned down twice. I can’t work because I have to take a lot of breaks and some days can’t do anything because of my breathing and pain in my neck I have no income and have to stay with a friend can’t get no help it’s crazy.

    • Chas

      See a disability attorney.

      • Roe

        Doesnt help much since I to got turned down 2 times and I have COPD, Idioplathic Pulmonary Fibrosis Herniated and Bulging Disc in both neck and back and had a disability attorney and still got turned down. Pulmonogist gave me 5 years and that was 3 years ago and still not able to get disability. What the HELL???????????????????????

  2. Clyde

    I certainly don’t begrudge those with true disability problems. But like all big governmental programs, this one has
    It’s share of fraud.

    • DK

      If this was not a ‘big governmental program’, states could opt out. It has worked well, served persons well. For 7-1/2 I was completely and totally disabled, an invisible disability. Time after time I heard snide comments, “people are fakers”, or “I guess I should go apply”. I had no time for this so called ‘friend’s belittling maligned verbiage. If anyone thinks that SSDI is a windfall you are sadly mistaken. I was not denied, matter of fact, SS cancelled my review appointment as they received sufficient documentation. The benefits were not my focus, I didn’t care if I lived another day, I lived a personal hell. No one, no one, has the right to judge who should and should not receive benefits.

      I continue to struggle on a daily basis just to make it. I work in an extremely high stress/demand job. I was told that I am among a small percentage that return to work.

      • Jane

        I agree with you totally. There are those who possess (invisible disabilities). None of us can say how someone is feeling inside; only the person hurting knows how they’re feeling.

        Well documented medical records, by competent Drs. should always be well respected, and if turned down, applicants are allowed to rebuff this first decision, until, or unless an SSDI judge has the final say on the applicants case. The first line SSDI case reviewers, aren’t medical professionals, and most of the cases presented to these first line employees, are turned down.

        It’s a sad but very true fact, that as we age, our bodies break down, and some break down more quickly than others.

        Many SDDI recipients have worked heavy labor, or repetitive motion jobs for 20+ years (many while standing on hard concrete, hour after long hour) this can cause a large number of debilitating spinal conditions, leaving those afflicted in such pain, that when surgery is required, it can often fail, and cause further debilitation.

        Many of these spinal conditions can’t be seen by passers by, but can certainly be felt by the inflicted patient. It isn’t anyone else’s business if, someone is on SSDI, and anyone who lumps all recipients into the category of faking, or lazy, is being very disrespectful.

        • Michelle D.


  3. Thomas H.

    I am a disabled police officer. I am deaf and I am receiving social security. Am I entitled to social security disability benefits?

  4. William C.

    I have loss of hearing and it is getting worse. It’s hard to hear even though I ware hearing aids. Hard to get a job. Can I receive some kind SS benefit?

  5. Ashlee P.

    I have seizures, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, depression and and manic depressive disorder. I have a very hard time keeping a job. They don’t really want to keep you when you have seizures on the job and multiple doctors appointments trying to get the treatment that you need.

    • Kim A.

      The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 protects individuals who possess, or are thought to possess, a wide range of disabilities, ranging from paraplegia to Down Syndrome to autism. However, it does not force an employer to employ a worker whose disability would create an “undue hardship” onto his business (for example, a paraplegic cannot work on a construction site, and a blind person cannot be a chauffeur).[5] Similar protections have been in place for Federal employees and customers of federal agencies and contractors since 1973 under the Rehabilitation Act.

    • James

      I applied for Fibromyalgia, heart issues and epilepsy. Then, I went back to ask about adding artery and other problems. I was told you can only apply once. Is this true?

      • Michelle D.


        • Linda

          You can apply as often as you like. However, if you currently have an ongoing case where a decision has not been made, you need to tell them that you have new medical information to add to your case. Do not reapply if you have applied and no decision has been made yet. It will start the process all over. Once you have been denied, you can appeal and send in the additional info with your appeal or you can simply reapply. Like I said before, tough, if you reapply instead of appealing the decision, it starts your claim over from the date you reapply and you won’t get any back pay from before.

  6. Rick

    I was turned down twice so we went two years with no income and then when I finally got it they gave me one months back pay I had to sell everything I owned to feed my family and I mean everything how is that fair.

    • Tom

      Fellow citizens like yourself often do not give credit where it is due because of a lack of understanding of the law and government. The folks you elect to Congress make the law and set the guidelines. SSA’s job is to find adequate evidence. It is certainly not a program that pays you because you can no longer do your most recent job. In fact, the law (written by the people you send to Congress) clearly states you have to not be able to do any job that you can be found to perform that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. In other words, Congress expects you to move around a job and does not guarantee a standard of living. By that definition, no doubt you had a condition or group of conditions that were not quite at the point of meeting that standard. When you were awarded the third time with only one month of retroactivity, it meant that you only recently met the standard set down by the folks you send to Congress. In addition, many cases are turned down by inadequate evidence from those that treat you. You must be found disabled by clear and convincing evidence.

      • Mark G.

        You are going away, human trafficking at it’s finest.

        • Jonathan R.

          [Mark Gaddie” on August 5, 2019; wrote: “You are going away, human trafficking at it’s finest.]
          Note: appears to violate the “comments policy” ; specially: “personal attack” (specifically: “abusive remarks”/offensive/degrading remarks” in reply to another commenter. Please review for deletion! Thanks!

          • Barbara

            Why are patrolling these comments? Stop! Get a life

      • Cristene

        I totally agree with you. I understand and yes his grammar leaves little too be desired. But I just got finished fighting an overpayment that they said I was responsible for yet at the time of said overpayment SS deemed me unable to care for myself and unable to make any decisions. So I had a rep payee. When I filed again after 11 years I as homeless and living in my car. I filed a waiver eventually got the decision on the waiver and it was denied because it was not affecting my ability to pay rent or utilities. Hmmmm I’m homeless can’t work and all I receive is SSI. And I still live in my car because they don’t have anything I can afford to rent.

        • Deanna S.

          I received SSI . I use to be able to make my rent, electric, And propane tank fiil 2 X’s a yr house hold and personal items gas for vehicle and have a little Xtra lot rent always like the cost of living goes up I now use elec Heaters cut out the un used including my BD and bathroom couchin it laundry,dish, toilet paper baking soda and vinegar to clean brush my teeth no vehicle broke down, behind on trailer rent, very greatful to trailer Lord probably will also be homeless with our the shelter of my vehicle I’m as fugal as they get who can live on $783.00 a month and January I got a $22.00
          That s 22
          raise going to be 62 yrs old

  7. Linda E.


    • Marc

      The responsibility for food stamps is with your state, not SSA or the federal government. Poor communication is on your end.

  8. David W.

    I have not been able to find the answer to this question: Once the Social Security Disability benefits turn into just “normal Social Security” am I still considered disabled under the Federal definition of disabled? I received benefits for my issues with Bi-Polar and later depression. Once I turned 67 my SSI kicked in. I’m 72 now.

    • Jonathan R.

      The short answer is “no”. The way the system has been—& still is, as of date (2019) — one when a “SSDI and/or “SSI beneficiary” [Note: I use “&/or”; since: “concurrent beneficiaries are rare but do exist!” —but do not “double dip” ; since their “SSI” portion is significantly reduced by their SSDI amount. Also, in some cases, one’s SSDI benefits are quite low—for many reasons of which I don’t have text space to discuss) — And the combination of their “deemed” [i.e. “countable ” income and assets [as determined, or “deemed”] by SSA federal regulations) are low enough to qualify for SSI benefits on a “needs-based” basis as well, may get a greater amount of SSI benefits (to “supplement” their income (hence, SSI = “Supplemental Security Income). When one reaches “retirement age” ; or “old age”; one’s adult SSDI/SSI turned into “retirement benefits” and one can no longer be considered/determined “disabled under [the SSA’s] rules”.
      When is full retirement/old age?
      Here is the link to “calculate” ; based on what year you were born:
      <> .

  9. James E.

    Thanks for this information! Since 1990, my family and I sent President George H. W. Bush letters every July thanking him for signing the ADA. Our daughter was born with a cardiac disability and the Bushes always replied to our letters. They were very kind and generous people. God Bless George H.W. and Barbara Bush!

  10. MICHAEL J.

    Thanks for the information on disability!

    • Eric Z.

      I believe especially after people I have been on it for 10 years and their condition actually gets worse you’re on it for psychiatric reasons along with medical reasons are secret weather inquiries every 7 years skip. I mean making check I guess to see if you’re still going to your doctor which is something that I always do I have to do for the rest of my life and I’ve been doing it since I was 15 and I’m 42 years old now but I don’t agree with Social Security where taking their money when they clearly may have messed up and perhaps overpaid you well that’s not your fault and especially after you call them and say hey is this my money can I spend it and they say yes it’s yours to spend wow then they got you until the payment is paid off because you can fight grieve it and do whatever you want Social Security always wins.

      • Jonathan R.

        {Re: above comment posted by:
        Eric Z. on August 8, 2019 at 2:26 am}. Note: alleged violation of the “comments policy”.
        Specifically, a “rant” – but more importantly, posted as: “undecipherable language” / very poorly structured and very poorly formatted that significantly distracts from comprehensibility. Please consider for “deletion” – if deemed appropriate. Thank you!

        • VANESSA B.

          I disagree. I understand what they are saying. Grammar a bit to be desired but I understand the comment. I say leave it for others to read.

          • Cristene

            I totally agree with you. I understand and yes his grammar leaves little too be desired. But I just got finished fighting an overpayment that they said I was responsible for yet at the time of said overpayment SS deemed me unable to care for myself and unable to make any decisions. So I had a rep payee. When I filed again after 11 years I as homeless and living in my car. I filed a waiver eventually got the decision on the waiver and it was denied because it was not affecting my ability to pay rent or utilities. Hmmmm I’m homeless can’t work and all I receive is SSI. And I still live in my car because they don’t have anything I can afford to rent.

        • Barbara

          People with disabilities sometimes have a hard time typing or communicating. Why are you on here saying to remove their questions? Please stop being the grammar or communication police. Take off your badge and skip the ones you can’t understand. Better yet take a English comp class it will help you understand the subject of the question better.

          • Sandy W.

            Yes, The person communicating did so to the best of their ability, that is why it is called DISABILITY.
            Sandy Westby

          • Jimmy E.

            AGREE 100%…


      • Pat


        • Scrynt C.

          The grammar AND flow of the comment by Eric Z. are very bad, and leave a LOT to be desired.

          • Brian C.

            Why does it matter to u, it has nothing to do with u, stay out of it!

Comments are closed.