While going through some old files recently, I came across a disability income insurance application form I had filled out when I started my speaking, training and consulting business in January 1997.

At that time, I had just left a faculty position at Ohio State University. I had the good sense to begin shopping around for a DI policy, knowing that I would be at risk starting my business without it. Disability income insurance had been a part of my OSU benefits package.

In my investigation, I found out that my DI policy at OSU was issued through the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio. This policy would remain in effect for two years after I left the university. When I realized that my income would be insured during this time, I tucked the insurance application into a folder for future reference. I fully intended to purchase an individual DI policy before the two-year window elapsed.

I never had to buy that individual DI policy. Life changed for me an instant. On June 13, 1998 while riding my bicycle, I was crushed by a 7,000 pound falling tree and paralyzed from the waist down.

My spinal cord injury severely limited me in daily living skills as well as pursuing my career. I was too weak to roll myself in my wheelchair on the carpet in our home. Since I lived and worked out of my two-story home, 50% of my home was not accessible. When I got home from the hospital, I focused on my rehabilitation and I went to physical and occupational therapy 3 days a week for 2 years.

At the time, I also owned a publishing company. I decided to dissolve it since I had no access to my basement where the books were stored for shipping purposes.

Since I was unable to travel, I could no longer deliver speeches or training programs. There was no income from either business in those early months.

My DI policy kicked in and started to replace my income within a few months. It was a life buoy. It relieved my stress as well as that of my husband, Mark. At the time, Mark was in a sales position and his sales plummeted due to the time he spent visiting me in the hospital and taking care of me at home. We hired a personal care attendant as soon as I got home from the hospital so he could go back to work. My attendant helped me get out of bed, take a shower, get dressed, cooked our meals, cleaned the house, and drove me to therapy and doctor’s appointments. She worked for me for almost a year. The money I paid her came out of my DI benefits checks.

When I speak from the stage about the value of DI, I’m often approached by people in the audience who share their stories. Many have regrets. If only they had planned ahead life would have been different. They and their family members know all too well the financial burden that a disability places on a family. All family members are affected, not just the person with a disability. Life dreams come to a sudden halt after a disability. People with disabilities, without work income or DI, no longer have the resources to build their lives and execute their plans for a better day. People take for granted how important it is to earn a living. I think it’s a person’s greatest asset.

People who start their own businesses need to budget for DI from the beginning. I often hear business owners complain that DI is too expensive. My reply, “If you think DI is too expensive try living without it!” Entrepreneurs who are making the leap to being self-employed should take a careful look at all their expenses and fully realize how important it is to limit their risk through a DI policy. There are many ways to carve out a budget and the investment in a DI policy should not be compromised.

The U.S. economy is facing turmoil with the state of the stock market, massive corporate layoffs, decreased sales in the marketplace, and thin profit margins. Business owners and their employees need to cherish every paycheck, sales commission, or bonus they receive.

Many families find themselves in a position where one member of the household loses their job or has their hours cut. This income loss compromises lifestyles. For the family member fortunate enough to still be working, hopefully the harsh reality sets in that should that member of the family become disabled and unable to work, there would be no household income. DI becomes even more critical to own during the current economic recession.

When I talk with insurance professionals I share the statistics. The likelihood of being disabled for more than 3 months is greater than dying in any given year. At age 32, the chance of being disabled 90 days is 6.5 times greater than the chance of death. The conclusion I make is that DI is more important than life insurance and should be purchased before life insurance.

There is also a big misconception in the minds of American workers. They think a disability will never happen to them. They don’t realize how vulnerable they are to the fact that, literally, in a second life can change. Many also are incorrect in their assumption that most disabilities are caused by an accident. The facts show that 90% of the time they are caused by illnesses. Often these illnesses are exhibited as a result of genetics passed on by our parents. Not all of the disabling illnesses are physical; some are mental illnesses that are just as debilitating.

Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D., is a well-known speaker and DI insurance sales expert. She can be reached at Rosemarie@RosemarieSpeaks.com