Disabilities and Your Profession
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Disabilities and Your Profession

By Nonkululeko Zungu, 19 March 2020

The consequences of not being sufficiently covered against disability can have serious financial implications for professionals, should they have to face the harsh realities of an unforeseen disability.

But, finding the right cover for the myriad of potential disabilities can be challenging. How do you do it?

Nonkululeko Zungu, Product Development Consultant at Sanlam Individual Life, attributes the disability insurance gap to the ‘it won’t happen to me mindset’. “It’s difficult to think about these things, so we tend to brush them under the carpet, hoping we’ll never have to face them,” says Zungu. There’s a significant disability insurance gap of R19.3 trillion for South Africans aged 30 to 39. Based on the 2018 Sanlam Disability Claim stats, most of the disability claims were paid in respect of clients in the age group of 39 to 55 years. She believes there’s an education job to be done and it’s pivotal to start conversations to address harmful stigmas, raise awareness around different disabilities and identify ways to mitigate risk.

Different Types of Disabilities

In 2018, 52% of Sanlam’s disability claims were for heart disease, cancer and musculoskeletal conditions. For women, the majority of claims were for cardiovascular diseases (22%), while cancer accounted for most claims from men (28%).

It’s vital to note that disabilities can be seen and unseen. They can be physical, cognitive (physical or psychological conditions that limit an individual’s ability to learn, causing functional problems for that person), mental (difficulties relating to your ability to obtain, adapt, and apply new information), sensory, emotional, developmental or a combination of these. The most common disabilities young people are at risk of are impairments or complicated injuries following significant trauma or accidents. We are also seeing a slow but steady increase in psychiatric conditions in younger age groups as well, according to Dr Marion Morkel, Chief Medical Officer at Sanlam.

While the Stats SA report highlights the disability prevalence by province in South Africa for difficulty in seeing, hearing, communicating, walking, remembering and self-care, it does not include statistics about psychological and certain neurological disabilities. This is primarily due to a lack of data, which suggests that these kinds of ‘unseen’ disabilities may be overlooked.

Zungu notes that Mental Health Conditions such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia and progressive chronic conditions are examples of so-called “unseen” disabilities. She believes it is crucial to provide more education around these often less spoken about but equally debilitating disabilities. “It’s vital that people have disability cover should they be rendered temporarily or permanently unable to work. It’s also important they know what classifies as a disability in order to have the best chance of a successful claim.”

Disabilities You Can Claim for

An occupational disability is a disability that inhibits one’s ability to perform one’s occupation. Cover for occupational disabilities takes two forms:

  1. Disability for Own Occupation

    This cover pays out when someone can no longer perform the demands of the job he or she held immediately before the disability occurred.

  2. Disability for Own (Regular) and Reasonable Alternative Occupation

    This covers an individual in the event of no longer being able to fulfil the demands of the role he or she held immediately prior to the disability. It also covers the occupation he or she could reasonably have expected to practice, taking education, training and experience into account.

    Zungu notes that individuals may pay a higher premium for disability for own occupation (regular occupation) cover, due to there being a greater chance of a successful claim.

    Zungu concludes, “It’s important for cover to be easy to understand so that it’s possible to spot where you might be underinsured. Getting whole life cover is also key because there’s no way of predicting at what point in your life you may need it.”


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