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What is a disability?

A disability is defined by the United States Department of Labor as an impairment, either physical or mental, that limits one’s ability to perform major and daily life activities. These activities include being able to dress yourself, bathe yourself, feed yourself, breathe on your own, walk, or talk, as well as many other activities of daily life.

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Under Federal Disability Discrimination Law, the disability does not have to be visually obvious. To this end, learning disabilities, mental disabilities or disorders, and being HIV positive can also qualify as disabilities.

To qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income, a person has to have a disability that is medical, psychiatric, or psychological. The disability must keep the individual from being able to work and earn an income (of at least a specified amount that might vary based on your situation) for a least one year.

Who decides what disabilities are covered?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has set guidelines that are in place to determine if a specific disability really qualifies for protection under the law.

To begin with, a disability has to substantially prevent someone from being able to perform one of (sometimes more than one, particularly when you are trying to qualify for disability insurance benefits) the normal activities of day to day life.

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This means that even if you have a difficult time performing one of the major life activities, if you can still do it, and can do the other major life tasks, you may not necessarily be covered under the ADA. Your disability could be determined to be not substantial enough.

All rulings are done on a case by case basis (this is also true when one is applying for their Social Security disability benefits).

Whether or not a person is considered disabled is based upon how long they are expected to be disabled, how severe the disability is, and whether or not the disability will have some long reaching impact. One person with a back injury may be determined to be disabled, while another with a similar but less mild back injury will not qualify.

What is not considered a disability?

And some things will just never be covered; there is no way around it. Even if certain illnesses or conditions make performing life extremely difficult or even impossible, a person will probably never be determined to be disabled, at least not by ADA standards. One of these includes pregnancy; while one can qualify for short term disability (or sick leave) for problems related to pregnancy, a pregnant person is not considered disabled.

These things are also not considered disabilities:

  • Weight problems like obesity and anorexia
  • Cultural challenges
  • Economic status
  • Drug addictions

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Disability Insurance

People have several options when it comes to protecting themselves against problems due to becoming disabled. We cannot necessarily prevent ourselves from being disabled, but we can protect our family and our bank accounts by planning ahead. Disability insurance was designed to help people survive after they experienced a devastating illness or accident. This kind of insurance helps supplement the income the individual lost or loses as a result of the disability.

Government programs like SSDI and SSI are different from private insurance policies in both benefits and qualifications. Each private insurance company has different terms. It also depends on if you buy your disability insurance through a group plan (at your work) or if you purchase your own private disability insurance plan.

Some people are happy keeping their group plan, if one is available through their work, even though plans through your employer usually pay a lower percentage of your income (it usually maxes around 60% or 70%). Others choose to supplement their work-based disability insurance by purchasing a private plan that insures another 10% or 20%. The other options is to purchase disability coverage completely independent of any group.

Once you decide if you want to purchase disability insurance, you will need to determine if you want short term disability, long term disability, or both. Some people have short term disability through their employers (many states require employers to offer at least a set amount of weeks of short term disability to all their employees) so they may opt to simply purchase long term disability, or a supplemental policy.

Think about how much you have to insure. Do you make a lot of money? Those who make salaries in the six-figure range usually want to purchase High Limit Disability Insurance, which simply provides them with more money. Group plans rarely insure that much of a person’s income.

The best way to figure out what you need to get is to research all the different plans, and to get as many quotes from different companies as possible. Disabilities can happen quickly, and they can be devastating all on their own; you don’t want to risk all you’ve worked so hard for.

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