Time for Canadian insurance companies to recognize ‘invisible’ disabilities

You can read this article on the Toronto Star website here.

Before the pandemic, many who suffered from disabilities were forced to suffer in silence. As the working world returns to “normal,” we simply cannot ignore the billion people in the world experiencing some form of disability.

Amidst the Great Resignation, we have seen an explosion in disability claims arising from mental health issues since the onset of the pandemic. Employers need to be aware of this burgeoning problem and to be better at accommodating employees struggling with mental health disabilities.

As a lawyer with 35 years in disability insurance litigation, I know that invisible disability claims are far less likely to be accepted by insurance companies. As the world wakes up to the reality of mental health disability, this unfair asymmetry cannot continue. Invisible disabilities can impact individuals as much as visible ones. It’s time that both insurance companies and workplaces wake up to that fact.

The pandemic has triggered a fundamental power shift. With more leverage in the hands of the employee, now is the time for people with disabilities to stake their claim; there has never been a better time for people with long-term disabilities to advocate for greater accommodation in the workplace.

These accommodations should start with more inclusive hiring practices. For example, 3.8 million Canadians were living with a long-term disability prior to the pandemic, 12 per cent of them report having been refused a job in the previous five years as a result of their condition. But they should also include the kind of accommodations that are designed to support disabled workers in breaking down the social and physical barriers they face and facilitating their participation as productive members of the workforce.

This is not as simple as providing basic accommodations like wheelchair access. Accommodation must include visible and invisible disabilities. Someone suffering from Crohn’s disease may need to be in an office that is adjacent to a bathroom. Someone suffering from recurrent migraines may need light, sound, or scent accommodations or a flexible schedule to cope with a migraine attack.

It has been said that the only true disability is the inability to accept and respect people’s differences. Accommodating disability in the workplace begins with an understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all prescription.

In Canada, for example, millions will finally be returning to the office. A recent Angus Reid poll found half of those report feeling fatigued, while 38 per cent say they are anxious, with substance use disorders, reports CAMH, as the leading causes of disability in Canada.

Employers must evaluate the resources they have put in place to handle anxiety, stress, and depression in an empathetic and proactive manner. We’ve all been reminded just how much quality of life matters and it is time to make the lives we lead better because longevity is a guarantee none of us have.

As we try to put the pandemic behind us, we need to change perceptions in the insurance industry. Many disability claims are denied by insurers on the grounds that there is a lack of objective medical evidence to support the claim. This is particularly problematic when it comes to illnesses that are dubbed “invisible” and cannot be confirmed via “objective” diagnostic testing.

“Invisible” illnesses, such as anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia, are not detected in blood tests, X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs — but this doesn’t make them any less real, or any less debilitating. Now, long COVID, for which there is no single test, and the symptoms vary from person to person, joins the long list of “invisible” but very real conditions.

In fact, it’s estimated that there are more than half a million Canadians who are suffering, or have previously suffered from long COVID, which can present as an invisible illness, causing insurers to deny their disability claims and leaving long haulers to battle financial hardship, and suffer additional stress, as they struggle to regain their physical health.

As U.S. disability advocate Robert M. Hensel says, “there is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more.”

In the wake of the pandemic, we should not accept the “out of sight, out of mind” approach to mental health and disability any longer.

Questions? Contact the long term disability insurance lawyers at Share Lawyers. Our 35+ years of experience in long term disability (LTD) law can help you win your case against Canada Life, Desjardins, Manulife, RBC Insurance, Sun Life, and other insurance companies. We offer free consultations and there are no fees unless you win your case. Join us on Facebook and become a Top Fan for a chance to win each month.

We’re here to support you during this difficult time

How can we help?