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The Great Disability Divide: Significant Gap Between Employee Perception and Reality

  • Published: 2011-01-20 (Revised/Updated 2013-06-14) : Author: Council for Disability Awareness (CDA)
  • Synopsis: The Disability Divide reveals severe disconnects between what consumers believe about disability and income protection planning and the actual facts about the two issues.

Quote: "The study also found that 83 percent of respondents think that anyone can become disabled at any time."

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New research results show need for more employee education about income protection.

The Disability Divide, a new consumer research study conducted by the Council for Disability Awareness (CDA), reveals severe disconnects between what consumers believe about disability and income protection planning and the actual facts about those two issues.

The research was conducted to understand wage earners' perceptions about disability, identify actual behaviors related to their perceptions, and determine if they are prepared to deal with an unexpected loss of income caused by disability. The full report can be viewed in its entirety at:

Nearly all respondents, 90 percent, rated their ability to earn an income as more valuable than any other resource in maintaining financial security. However, only 37 percent of respondents said they have thought about taking steps to protect their income.

The research identified a major disconnect between the perception and the reality of what causes disabilities. Seventy-one percent of respondents said disability is most likely caused by serious accidents. In reality, insurance statistics show that only 9 percent of long-term disability claims result from serious accidents.

"Even though serious long-term and even permanent disabilities do occur, most income- interrupting disabilities are due to more common causes like back and joint pain, chronic diseases, cancers, depression and even pregnancy," said Barry Lundquist, president of the CDA. Lundquist added that this catastrophic view of disability leads many wage earners to conclude that disabilities are far less common than in fact is the case.

Employees do recognize the impact disability can have on their income. Fifty-seven percent saw a direct correlation between disability and the inability to earn an income. Yet, 65 percent say if their income stopped they could cover expenses for at most one year. The fact is, 71 percent of Americans live from paycheck to paycheck and nearly two-thirds do not have funds earmarked for emergencies.

The study also found that 83 percent of respondents think that anyone can become disabled at any time. Inexplicably, however, a significant number don't believe they are personally at risk. Women think men are most likely to become disabled, but statistics show that across most age groups, women are more susceptible.

"These gaps in understanding such a fundamental financial security issue are alarming," said Lundquist. "Employees need to be better educated on how likely it is that either illness or injury can keep them out of work for a prolonged period of time, and how they can protect themselves and their incomes from that risk."

Lundquist says employees need to talk with their employers and other advisers about what their benefits will cover if they become disabled. "Understanding is only half the battle; employees must take action to protect their income in case they become sick or injured," said Lundquist

"In today's world where employees perceive that financial security is more fragile "and more valued "than ever before, we all need to recognize that all financial security ultimately starts with the income stream," said Lundquist. "Protection of that income stream is more critical than ever before."

The CDA offers resources and information for consumers, employers, HR personnel and financial advisers to educate themselves and others about the likelihood of disability and its devastating effects. Disability preparedness tools and resources are available at:

About the Council for Disability Awareness (CDA) -The Council for Disability Awareness (CDA) is a non-profit group dedicated to helping the American workforce become aware of the growing likelihood of disability and its financial consequences. The CDA engages in communications, research and educational activities that provide information and helpful resources to wage earners, their families, employers and others who are concerned about disability and the impact it can have on wage earners and their families.

CDA 2010 Consumer Disability Awareness Survey


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