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

And on his watch, a wall fell in Berlin, a dictator’s aggression did not stand, and doors across America opened to those with disabilities. WSJ, "Notable & Quotable: The Real George H.W. Bush," 5 Dec. 2018 And on his watch, a wall fell in Berlin, a dictator's aggression did not stand, and doors across America opened to those with disabilities. Chloe Foussianes, Town & Country, "Jon Meacham's Eulogy for George H.W. Bush: Read What the President's Biographer Had to Say," 5 Dec. 2018 Disney workers also have the discretion to hand out readmission passes to visitors with disabilities, allowing them to get back on a ride immediately. Fox News, "30 lawsuits against Disney Resorts from autistic visitors move forward," 2 Oct. 2018 In 2011, Wall started Polished Girlz, a 501c3 non-profit that organizes a roving crew of amateur, volunteer manicurists to bring a little sparkle to hospitals and groups for people with disabilities. Macaela Mackenzie, Marie Claire, "When You're Sick, a Manicure Becomes a Link to Life Before the Hospital," 4 Sep. 2018 Here’s the thing: For far too many women with disabilities, this isn’t a rare occurrence. Madison Lawson, Glamour, "It Shouldn't Be This Hard for a Woman in a Wheelchair to Get a Pedicure," 7 Aug. 2018 Melissa Blake is a freelance writer and blogger covering disability rights and women's issues. Melissa Blake, Glamour, "To Cope with My Father's Suicide, I Had to Learn to Love My Grief," 17 Nov. 2018 Millions of children and seniors are at risk of losing food benefits The federal safety net includes a range of programs, from Social Security to disability insurance and temporary cash assistance for needy families. Alexia Fernández Campbell, Vox, "GOP plan to get Americans off food stamps puts 4 million children and seniors at risk," 15 Oct. 2018 Society should say disability insurance, tax-advantaged retirement accounts, access to health care should be provided to all workers, not just those who have jobs at companies. Carolyn Said, SFChronicle.com, "Why the robot apocalypse won’t kill all gig economy jobs," 16 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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disability clause

disability insurance


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Last Updated

3 Jan 2019

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Time Traveler for disability

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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More from Merriam-Webster on disability

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with disability

Spanish Central: Translation of disability

Nglish: Translation of disability for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of disability for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about disability

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a complex dispute or argument

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