Social Security’s Definition of Disability

August 1, 2019 • By

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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.

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About the Author

Mike Korbey, Deputy Commissioner for Communications

Mike Korbey, Deputy Commissioner for Communications


  1. Becky B.

    David M. Bonilla, age 85 on 8/20/2019, is on Social Security, receiving $640/month. Since he had a stroke April 24, 2019, and is more unable to do his normal tasks, would he qualify for SS disability.

  2. Maurice T.

    There is so much criminal activity on the Internet regarding email and website transaction, that I can no longer determine the validity of any email or website claiming just about anything. VA and Medicare transactions have devolved into a swamp of malignant error prone transactions, (as well as others), due to either incompetency or fraud. I no longer trust such Internet transactions.

  3. Paul

    What a B.S. article. Created by a bureaucrat. From the title, I expected the article to define what a disability is. No such luck. Just says SSA has rules.

    • Chas

      Click the link in the article.

  4. ST

    Unlike the ADA, in which disabled means able to work given appropriate accommodations, Social Security’s definition of disability means unable to work due to symptoms of a medical condition. The anniversary of ADA is not relevant, since ADA is all about making it possible for those with what used to be called handicaps access buildings, sidewalks, etc, and be given whatever help might enable them to work. ADA is the inverse of Social Security Disability.

  5. Anthony L.

    At what age does SSN stop payment for Disability?

    • ST

      At full retirement age. Search on Social Security Full Retirement Age for the chart of ages. For those born 1950-1954, it is age 66. For the years after that, it goes up gradually to age 67.

    • L.A.

      Hi Anthony. We automatically convert your disability benefits to retirement benefits, when you reach your full retirement age, but the amount remains the same. We hope this information helps.

      • J N.

        Thank you for that helpful information. I was unsure about the amount remaining the same.

  6. Nelson

    Thanks for this great message and always stand with us in our side…

  7. Susan

    I see that questions are being answered by “Tom” & “Lori” & it looks like they are making their best efforts. But why isn’t SS answering, & providing links that the askers can follow to whatever document explains the official answers to their questions? There’s probably a government employee they can call to just say they don’t understand the language at that link & have it explained in more simple words. But anyone who thinks they’ve been mistakenly rejected needs to know that they can go see a private lawyer who specializes in SS for FREE. They can explain the situation to the lawyer, who will tell them if they have a winnable case or not, & why. It’s awful that before Obamacare, people who were too sick or injured to work couldn’t afford to see a doctor, so don’t have years of medical records to prove to SS that they’re not faking. Tell every poor disabled person you know to swallow their pride, accept any & all assistance available from local government, charities, & churches rather than getting worse by trying to work. That will only be held against them. They need to go to any free clinics in the area even if they don’t think they belong in a waiting room with addicts or mentally ill folks.
    They NEED medical records so that if they get worse instead of recovering, they’ll have the records SS expects & that a lawyer hopes they have! If a lawyer takes the case & files a successful appeal, even if it takes a ridiculous amount of time, he will be paid a percentage of the money that the government pays out for the time between the original application date & the date that the appeal succeeded. The government allows every lawyer the same percentage of the back benefits money, so there’s no negotiating. A successful appeal means that SS now accepts that the client really was disabled on the application date & still is disabled, & that medical records say that say that the disability will last for at least another year. So GO SEE A LAWYER!

    • dk

      And your issue with ‘mentally ill’ persons is…? Mental illness and chemical addiction are as much a life threatening medical condition as cancer. Studies show that a high percentage of persons with undiagnosed mental health issues self medicate and result in addiction. Behavioral health issues are not understood until it hits close to home.

  8. Carol M.

    Is liver disease a disabling condition?

  9. john

    You would have been required to file for social security disability when you filled for SSI. If you are not receiving it now you are not entitled.

  10. Chanel T.

    Am I still eligible to receive disability if I have to take the anti rejection Drug PROGRAF for the rest of my life to curtail rejection after a liver transplant

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