Is Epilepsy a Disability? Definitions and Social Security Explained

Medically Reviewed By Dominique Fontaine, BSN, RN, HNB-BC, HWNC-BC
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Epilepsy is a chronic condition that can cause serious seizures and health effects. This may affect a person’s quality of life and ability to carry out daily activities, leading to disability. However, legal definitions of disability vary, and available resources may depend on meeting certain qualification criteria. Under certain circumstances, regulatory bodies including the Social Security Administration (SSA) do recognize epilepsy as a disability.

The SSA is a United States federal government agency that provides social benefits, including disability support.

This article explains definitions of disability, how epilepsy may qualify officially as a disability, and what support is available. This article also explains how to qualify for and access support.

Disability is diverse.

Certain institutions, such as the Social Security Administration (SSA), will use the word “disability” as a legal or regulatory term with precise and limited definitions to inform their operation.

However, social definitions of disabilities are much more diverse.

Health conditions affect everyone uniquely, and people’s experiences with disability will be different according to many social, individual, and medical factors. Factors external to a person and their disability, such as systemic barriers, can also affect their experience, so defining a person’s disability by personal medical features only may not fully encompass the experiences they face.

This means that legal or regulatory definitions of disabilities may not necessarily support everyone with a disability or their experiences.

Even if the SSA or other bodies do not recognize your disability, its profile as a disability and the effect it has on your life is still valid. 

Is epilepsy considered a disability?

A person walks down some stairs while holding the harness of a service dog.
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According to the 2011 World Report on disability, the World Health Organization (WHO) considers disability to be dynamic and multilayered. Both the health condition itself and social or contextual factors surrounding health conditions can impact a person’s experience.

The WHO notes that disability includes experiences such as:

  • health or physical impairments
  • limitations or difficulty when carrying out activities
  • impairments to participation or involvement with any aspect of life, such as inaccessible environments or discrimination in the workplace

Because epilepsy can lead to these experiences and effects, many people consider it a disability.

However, the SSA has strict definitions of disability. The SSA defines a condition or individual case of illness as a disability if it meets these criteria:

  • The condition is medically determined to be a physical or mental impairment that causes an inability to engage in substantial gainful activity. This is the ability to earn a certain amount of money consistently.
  • The impairment is expected to lead to death, or it has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months continuously.

Whether a group or institution considers epilepsy a disability depends on their own considerations and definitions. While you or others may consider a condition to be a disability, it may not meet the SSA’s criteria or further qualify.

Is epilepsy a disability for a child?

For a child, a person younger than age 18, the SSA defines a physical or mental impairment as a disability if it meets these criteria:

  • The impairment is medically determined, and it causes marked and severe limitations to function.
  • The impairment is expected to cause death, or it has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months continuously.

What are the SSA support and benefits?

The SSA offers two main financial programs to support those with disability. These include supplemental security income (SSI) and social security disability insurance (SSDI).

Supplemental security income

The SSI program pays financial benefits to people who qualify for SSA disability benefits and have limited resources and income. This includes eligible adults, eligible children, and adults older than age 65 who do not have disabilities.

SSI consists of monthly payments. As the program is needs-based, the payment amount varies based on the condition and current income or resources.

Social security disability insurance

In addition to SSI, the SSA offers the SSDI program to those who are “insured,” meaning those who have:

  • worked long enough
  • worked recently enough
  • paid social security tax on their income

The SSA calculates the payment amount based on yearly earnings.

In some cases, others related to an eligible person may be eligible to receive support. These can include:

  • widows or widowers who are age 50–60
  • surviving divorced spouses
  • widows, widowers, or surviving divorced spouses who qualify for disability support themselves, if the disability began before or within 7 years of the eligible person’s death

How do you qualify for support?

To receive social security support, your condition and its impact on your life must fulfill certain criteria. This includes meeting certain medical and financial qualifications.

Blue Book qualifications

The Blue Book is an SSA manual that lists disability and its definitions according to SSA standards.

To qualify with epilepsy, a person must have severe epilepsy that is uncontrollable with medications or treatment, despite strictly following a treatment plan. In addition, the SSA requires evidence of such a condition in a person’s medical records.

Further medical criteria to qualify for disability under Blue Book definitions vary. These criteria depend on the type of seizure, how often they occur, and how they affect you.

The following table outlines the seizure types and their requirements to qualify:

Seizure typeRequired features
generalized tonic-clonic seizures

seizures that occur at least once per month for 3 consecutive months, despite taking prescribed treatment, or:

seizures that occur at least once every 2 months for 4 consecutive months, despite taking prescribed treatment, and cause further marked physical or cognitive limitations

dyscognitive seizures

seizures that occur at least once per month for 3 consecutive months, despite taking prescribed treatment, or:

seizures that occur at least once every 2 months for 4 consecutive months, despite taking prescribed treatment, and cause further marked physical or cognitive limitations

Learn more about diagnosis and testing for epilepsy.

Residual functional capacity analysis

Your case of epilepsy may not fulfill the Blue Book requirements but still impair your ability to engage in substantial gainful activity. In this case, you may qualify as having a disability with a residual functional capacity (RFC).

An RFC analysis involves supplying the SSA with reports from your doctors and other people who know you. These reports need to include information about how your condition impacts your life, such as your ability to carry out daily tasks and work.

The SSA may then note that you qualify for certain vocational or workplace precautions to protect you if you experience seizures.

For some people, sufficient impairments to ability to work and do other activities can lead the SSA to consider the condition as a disability. However, this may not be the case for everyone.

Financial qualifications

Even if you meet the medical requirements, you may not be eligible for SSI if you have a certain amount of income or resources.

The SSA states that you may be eligible for SSI if your resources have a value of $2,000 or less. This amount is $3,000 or less for a couple.

This allowance may be higher for people with children applying for SSI. Additionally, some resources, such as property or one car, do not count toward this limit.

How do I apply?

You can apply for support directly with the SSA:

  • Call 1-800-772-1213 on the phone, or 1-800-325-0778 on a teletypewriter.
  • Visit the SSA’s online application page to apply online.

You can also use the SSA’s Get Started to Apply for SSI page to start the process. After filling out the required details, an SSA representative will contact you to offer advice on applying.

You may need substantial personal information and medical evidence during the application process.

Find further details of necessary information and documentation on the SSA’s online application page above.

Consult your doctors or care team and health insurance carrier if you are considering applying for disability support. They will need to support your case with extensive evidence. In addition, you may need to provide further medical and testing records.

What other support is there?

Additional support for disability due to epilepsy is available, even if you do not meet the requirements for SSI or SSDI.

This support can include:

  • workplace adjustments from employers, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • other SSA workplace incentive programs that support people at work, which may provide:
    • continued payments
    • assistance with medical bills or professional expenses
    • vocational training
  • federal, state, and local support resources that include help with:
    • housing access or affordable housing
    • medical bills or insurance
    • access to service animals
    • savings accounts and vouchers

A personal or employee private disability program that you have previously paid into may also offer support.

These resources and tools also can help you when considering applying for disability support:

Other frequently asked questions

Dominique Fontaine, BSN, RN, HNB-BC, HWNC-BC, has reviewed the following frequently asked questions.

Are you registered disabled if you have epilepsy?

While some cases of epilepsy can qualify as a disability with the SSA, an epilepsy diagnosis does not mean you are automatically registered as disabled.

Instead, you must apply to the SSA with evidence that shows you meet the medical and financial requirements.

How much is a disability check for epilepsy?

The amount of financial support you receive depends on whether you qualify for social security programs, and what resources you already have.

The maximum monthly amounts of SSI for 2022 include:

  • $841 for an eligible individual
  • $1,261 for spouses who are both eligible
  • $421 for an essential person or caretaker for a recipient of SSI

If you qualify, the SSA calculates how much you can receive from SSDI. This is based on work credits of your total yearly wages or self-employment income.

Summary

Epilepsy can cause severe and impactful seizures and complications. This can affect a person’s quality of life and ability to carry out daily activities. This means that epilepsy can be disabling, and many people and groups consider epilepsy to be a disability.

Institutions such as the SSA have strict definitions of disability for determining support. While not all cases of epilepsy qualify for SSA disability support, severe cases may make a person eligible.

Additional support can include workplace adjustments and access to further resources.

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Medical Reviewer: Dominique Fontaine, BSN, RN, HNB-BC, HWNC-BC
Last Review Date: 2022 Sep 29
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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