dis·​abil·​i·​ty | \ˌdis-ə-ˈbi-lə-tē \

Definition of disability 

1 : a physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental condition that impairs, interferes with, or limits a person's ability to engage in certain tasks or actions or participate in typical daily activities and interactions Scientists have tentatively linked the reading disability known as dyslexia to a bevy of brain disturbances.Science News How, with his severe disability, has Hawking been able to out-think and out-intuit his leading colleague-competitors …— Kip S. Thorne Yet one ends up admiring him for his devotion to the disability that could have unmade his career as an actor. It is through his deafness that we hear his story.— Lennard J. Davis also : impaired function or ability Sarcopenia is a loss of muscle mass and strength that normally occurs with aging, and it's a major cause of frailty and disability in the elderly. — Andrew Weil Thrombolytic therapy has been used in patients with acute ischemic stroke to restore cerebral blood flow, reduce ischemia, and limit neurologic disability. — Werner Hacke — see also intellectual disability, learning disability

2a(1) : an impairment (such as a chronic medical condition or injury) that prevents someone from engaging in gainful employment … monthly payment to which a worker is entitled upon retirement or disability under the federal social security system …— Robert I. Mehr

(2) : an impairment (such as spina bifida) that results in serious functional limitations for a minor

b : a program providing financial support to a person affected by disability … those who fit the criteria for dysthymia were more likely to have physical and emotional problems and more likely to be on Medicaid or Social Security disability than those with acute depression.— Melinda Beck also : the financial support provided by such a program … he collects disability on account of his exposure to Agent Orange during his years as an Army MP in Vietnam. — Jason Fagone

3 : a disqualification, restriction, or disadvantage economic disabilities

4 : lack of legal qualification to do something … Defoe … dramatised the gravity of the problem in the morally desperate expedient which Roxana is forced to adopt to overcome the legal disabilities of women.— Ian Watt

Examples of disability in a Sentence

She has learned to keep a positive attitude about her disability. disabilities such as blindness and deafness a program for children with disabilities It's a serious disease that can cause disability or death. After he injured his back he had to quit his job and go on disability.
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Recent Examples on the Web

Though many disability rights activists believe Vision Zero is a positive development, not everyone is happy with the pace or methods of change. Aaron Robertson, New York Times, "Blind Pedestrians Sue the City to Improve Crosswalk Safety," 27 June 2018 So far, the provision has resulted in the dismissal of more than 500 disability rights complaints. Luke Darby, GQ, "Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education Is Saving Itself Work by Dismissing Hundreds of Civil Rights Cases," 21 Apr. 2018 Growing up in suburban Baltimore, Tatyana herself became a fierce disability rights advocate, suing the state of Maryland for the right to compete in high school sports. Michael Kaplan And Samuel Burke, CNN, "Olympic great Tatyana McFadden goes for two marathon wins in a week," 20 Apr. 2018 But some disability rights groups and mental health professionals agree with the airlines. Alison Sider, WSJ, "Airlines Urge Clampdown on Flying With Pets," 10 July 2018 Fair Care Labs has partnered with insurance company Colonial Life to offer life insurance, disability insurance, and accident and critical illness insurance. Miranda Katz, WIRED, "How an App Could Give Some Gig Workers a Safety Net," 9 July 2018 According to the Social Security Administration’s website, in most cases, disability benefits are only available for those who have worked in the U.S. for at least 10 years. Libby Solomon, baltimoresun.com, "'No one can stop me': Afghan artist Sughra Hussainy on women's rights and change through art," 3 July 2018 The Social Security trust fund, which includes both old age and disability payments, will dry up by 2034. The Christian Science Monitor, "Shifting views of seniors: less burden, more asset," 27 June 2018 Their cases deal with elder abuse, end-of-life planning, disability rights and assisting homeless people with citations. Ben Brazil, latimes.com, "Lawyer duo saw a need and now their nonprofit firm is fighting for the homeless in O.C.," 24 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'disability.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of disability

1545, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Last Updated

7 Nov 2018

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The first known use of disability was in 1545

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More Definitions for disability


dis·​abil·​i·​ty | \ˌdi-sə-ˈbi-lə-tē \
plural disabilities

Kids Definition of disability

: a condition (as one present at birth or caused by injury) that damages or limits a person's abilities : the state of being disabled


dis·​abil·​i·​ty | \ˌdis-ə-ˈbil-ət-ē \
plural disabilities

Medical Definition of disability 

1 : the condition of being disabled

2 : limitation in the ability to pursue an occupation because of physical or mental impairment

3 : a physical or mental illness, injury, or condition that incapacitates in any way also : a program providing financial support to one affected by disability went on disability after the injury


plural disabilities

Legal Definition of disability 

1 : inability to pursue an occupation because of a physical or mental impairment specifically : inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or to be of long continued or indefinite duration in accordance with the Social Security Act — see also benefit, Americans with Disabilities Act — compare incapacity, occupational disease

2 : lack of legal qualification to do something a minor's disability

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