There are two different types of disability programs through the Social Security Administration: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Not all individuals are eligible for one or even both of these programs, but they both offer benefits for disabled persons who are unable to perform any type of work activity.
SSDI benefits are available to person who have worked and earned enough "work credits" or quarters to be eligible for the program. Generally, if you have worked 5 out of the last 10 years, you have earned enough work credits to be eligible for SSDI. The longer a person works, the more credits he/she earns. These work credits can "expire" however; if you find that you are unable to work due to a disability, it is important to apply for benefits as soon as possible. If your credits have expired, all is not lost. If you can prove that your disability started before the expiration of your work credits, you may still receive SSDI payments.
For individuals who have not worked long enough to meet the requisite number of work credits or whose work credits have expired, there are SSI benefits. These benefits are particularly for persons with limited resources who may need help paying bills or purchasing their medicine.
Keep in mind that people may qualify for benefits under both programs. Contact a lawyer or Social Security directly if you have questions about your eligibility for these programs.