How does the federal government define “disability”?

For the purposes of federal disability nondiscrimination laws (such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act), a person with a disability is typically defined as someone who:

  • has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more “major life activities,”
  • has a record of such an impairment, or
  • is regarded as having such an impairment.

More information on federal disability nondiscrimination laws, visit DOL’s Disability Nondiscrimination Law Advisor.

For purposes of Social Security disability benefits, a person with a disability must have a severe disability (or combination of disabilities) that has lasted, or is expected to last, at least 12 months or that results in death, and which prevents working at a “substantial gainful activity” level. State vocational rehabilitation (VR) offices determine a person with a disability to be eligible for VR services if he or she has a physical or mental impairment that constitutes or results in a “substantial impediment” to employment for the applicant.

More information on the varying ways disability is defined and the origins of those definitions is available on DisabilityStatistics.org, a comprehensive online resource maintained by the Employment and Disability Institute at Cornell University.

Leave a Reply

avatar

Related Stories

Brain Injuries

From cerebral palsy to traumatic brain injury to post traumatic stress disorder, learn more about different types of brain injuries.

Examples: Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Post Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) Brain Injury or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Brain Injury or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) may result from a blow or…

Read More

Learning Disabilities

Learn more about learning and attention issues, such as ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, and Executive Functioning Issues.

Examples: ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Executive Functioning Issues ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) is a biological condition that makes it hard for many individuals to sit still…

Read More

Deaf/Hard of Hearing

Learn how the terms deaf, deafened, hard of hearing and hearing impaired are typically used.

Examples: Deaf, Deafened, Hard of Hearing or Hearing Impaired Deaf “Deaf” usually refers to a hearing loss so severe that there is very little or no functional hearing.   Deafened…

Read More