The people who have made May the first annual Disability Insurance Awareness Month are hoping insurance agents and brokers will help them reach the tens of millions of Americans who lack adequate income protection.

Surveys have shown that 80% of working-age U.S. adults have too little disability insurance or none at all, says David Woods, president of the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education, Washington.

To get the most out of the disability awareness month campaign, producers “should be out talking to these people about disability insurance,” Woods says.

JHA, Portland, Maine, a disability insurance consulting firm, helped spark interest in disability insurance marketing in March 2005, when it presented a mini documentary featuring videos of interviews with ordinary Americans who had only a vague idea of what disability insurance is.

“We felt back then that the industry was doing very little to promote the need for our product,” says Stacy Varney, a JHA vice president. JHA executives suggested that the DI industry needed a public education campaign comparable to milk producers’ “Got Milk?” campaign.

Illinois Mutual Life Insurance Company, Peoria, Ill., tried to create its own public education campaign in May 2005 by starting its own Disability Insurance Awareness Month campaign, which was modeled after LIFE’s Life Insurance Awareness Month campaign.

The life awareness month program has been gathering steam and is now in its fourth year, and the disability month program appears to be getting off to an even faster start, Woods says.

“We’ve been very surprised at the interest that the companies and the media have shown,” he says. “The media are very interested.”

LIFE is sponsoring 2 disability awareness tours along with a Web seminar for top insurance producers. It also is sending disability awareness public service announcements to thousands of radio stations, and it is running a disability awareness consumer print ad in the May 21 issue of Newsweek magazine.

Many insurers are trying to use press releases and Web sites to spread the word about disability awareness month.

Principal Financial Group Inc., Des Moines, Iowa, for example, has issued a WebWire release urging consumers to use Web calculators to analyze their income protection needs, and Colonial Supplemental Insurance, an arm of Unum, Chattanooga, Tenn., has identified itself on its Web site as a “proud sponsor of the Disability Insurance Awareness Month.”

“The bottom line,” Colonial says, “is that a tremendous gap exists between the need for disability insurance and the amount of coverage Americans carry.”