When you hear the word disability, what is the first thing that comes to mind? If you’re like most people, you might imagine the physical objects commonly associated with an illness or accident such as hospital beds, canes, walkers or wheelchairs. That’s what I thought until I experienced a personal disability that I live with today. Over the years, I have learned the “true” meaning of disability.
The formal definition of a disability is a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses or activities. However, despite the complex range of disabilities, many people tend to think of their visual representations in a few simpleminded ways. For instance, they may imagine a disability as clearly visible and obvious to anyone, or that a disability is the result of sudden accident or simply something that happens when you get old. These generalizations are comforting for people because they imply that a disability is something that happens either a long way off or to people unlucky enough to have a serious accident, not something that could happen to anyone, at any time.
Moreover, many clients dismiss the idea of disability insurance because they consider it a waste of money. They underestimate the chances of being disabled by an accident or illness, and they further underestimate just how much the disability will limit their ability to work.
Disability Evaluation under Social Security
When speaking in terms of the legal and operative definition of disability, it’s a little different. When the Social Security Administration evaluates the status as a disabled or not disabled person, it takes into account three major elements:
- Ability to do work that you did prior to your disability
- Ability to do other types of work
- Expected duration of disability
Together, these elements form the definition of disability that determines whether an individual receives funds from Social Security and, if so, the amount of funds. As you can tell, this shows quite a bit of room for interpretation, but the bottom line is that a disability is anything that impedes an individual’s ability to do the amount and type of work that they did previously.
Why Disability Insurance Is Critical to your Clients
No one plans to become disabled, however, if the unforeseeable happens, only proper planning with disability insurance can help protect a portion of your clients earned income if they were to become too sick or hurt and unable to work.
Clients often assume that most disabilities are the result of accidents, however the reality is that the majority of people who are disabled did not become disabled due to injury, but from illness.
Disability insurance goes beyond medical insurance because it provides enhanced rehabilitation treatment and the cash to allow your clients to choose the care they want while maintaining the lifestyle they are used to. Premiums for disability coverage vary based on a client’s age, income, the type of work they do and the policy provisions they choose.
To help your clients better understand the importance of disability insurance, here are a few questions to help them think in terms of insuring their abilities and talents, rather than insuring against disability:
- How long could you and your family continue to maintain your current lifestyle without your income?
- What happens if you have an accident or illness and lose your ability to perform your work duties?
- Would you rather have a catastrophic medical plan or a comprehensive medical plan that provides you choice and control?
The Invisible Disability
Assuming that disabilities are often the result of a serious accident leads people to incorrectly imagine what a disability looks like. Even if your client is very sick, they may not show the signs that others expect to see in someone disabled or with diminished capabilities. The weariness that comes with so many illnesses will not be obvious to those around. Headaches, muscle pain, fatigue, motion impairments, auditory issues, mental illness, epilepsy, cancer – the list goes on.
What this means for the person with a disability is that they are often forced to confront the misunderstandings of others. Living in a world where shorthand for disability is a wheelchair or a disfigurement, someone with an invisible disability not only has to cope with their own reduced capabilities, but they are also constantly challenged to prove their disability to the world.
Learning to Live With My Disability
During my 20 year journey as a recovering quadriplegic, I have lived on both sides of these issues. I have gone from someone with an incredibly visual impairment to someone who outwardly appears completely healthy.
Today I am no longer capable of doing the amount of work or even some activities that I could before. I am exhausted more easily and some daily tasks are more challenging due to my limitations. One of the hardest aspects about getting back to work after my accident was helping others understand the realities of my life.
At one point, I asked for a reduced work-week because I did not have the physical ability and stamina to work a standard 40 hours. My boss, who was otherwise a smart and considerate person, asked if I couldn’t just make calls from my bed. I didn’t have a way to explain to him the trauma my body had gone through and how mentally and physically exhausting seemingly easy tasks were. I couldn’t show him how my clarity of thought and ability to engage with people suffered when I was fatigued. From his perspective, I looked completely normal and should have been able to operate as normal, just like before.
This, of course, can lead to a strong stigma against those with an invisible disability. Some employers may jump to a false conclusion that the disabled person is lazy or malingering rather than legitimately incapable of doing certain things. In my case, my career was especially challenging, because in many kinds of sales positions you live and die on your individual ability to hustle. If I couldn’t devote hours upon hours to making contacts, developing relationships, and meeting with clients, I wasn’t going to be able to earn enough money. By most measurements, my recovery and rehabilitation were extraordinary. Unfortunately, sometimes that isn’t enough.
Life gets busy and it’s easy to overlook the importance of disability income insurance, but ensuring that your clients have enough money to provide for their family or supplement their spouse’s income is something you shouldn’t put off doing. I strongly encourage you to speak with your clients today about protecting their talents, skills and abilities.