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noun, plural dis·a·bil·i·ties for 2.
  1. lack of adequate power, strength, or physical or mental ability; incapacity.
  2. a physical or mental handicap, especially one that prevents a person from living a full, normal life or from holding a gainful job.
  3. anything that disables or puts one at a disadvantage: His mere six-foot height will be a disability in professional basketball.
  4. the state or condition of being disabled.
  5. legal incapacity; legal disqualification.
  6. disability insurance.

Origin of disability

First recorded in 1570–80; dis-1 + ability


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1. disqualification, incompetence, incapability, impotence.

Synonym study

1. Disability, inability imply a lack of power or ability. A disability is some disqualifying deprivation or loss of power, physical or other: excused because of a physical disability; a temporary disability. Inability is a lack of ability, usually because of an inherent lack of talent, power, etc.: inability to talk, to do well in higher mathematics.


1. ability, capacity.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for disability


noun plural -ties
  1. the condition of being unable to perform a task or function because of a physical or mental impairment
  2. something that disables; handicap
  3. lack of necessary intelligence, strength, etc
  4. an incapacity in the eyes of the law to enter into certain transactions


Many deaf and hard of hearing people object to the use of the phrase hearing disability
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for disability


1570s, "want of ability;" see dis- + ability. Related: Disabilities.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

disability in Medicine

developmental disability

  1. A cognitive, emotional, or physical impairment, especially one related to abnormal sensory or motor development, that appears in infancy or childhood and involves a failure or delay in progressing through the normal developmental stages of childhood.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.