Eighty-two percent of Americans strongly agree that if you own a car, you need car insurance. Eighty percent feel that if you own a home, you need homeowner’s insurance. But did you know that fewer than half of all Americans (48 percent) strongly agree that it’s necessary to protect an asset that is many times more valuable than cars or homes — their paycheck — with disability insurance? This is what a 2010 LIFE Foundation survey recently discovered.

That’s where we, the agents and advisors, come in. Few people stop to think about what would happen if an accident or injury left them unable to work or earn a paycheck. Those who do think about it may erroneously assume that they will be able to rely on worker’s compensation or Social Security to see them through their disability. This is why, each May, the LIFE Foundation focuses the industry’s attention on this critical issue during Disability Insurance Awareness Month. The theme for this year’s campaign was Protect Your Paycheck — something that should resonate with everyone who works and earns a paycheck.

Throughout this year, it’s our job to educate the public about the importance of protecting their paycheck with disability insurance, and to make sure they obtain the coverage that they need.

I know it isn’t easy. Take a typical 20-something: They think they are invincible. What can happen to them, right? A disabling illness or injury? That’s for other people, older people.

This widespread mentality is one of the things that makes the realLIFEstory of Bill Reid so amazing. He was just 26 years old and working as a banquet manager when he bought an individual disability insurance policy. He also increased his coverage as his earnings rose.

When he was just 32, his life changed in an instant. On New Year’s Eve, as he headed to his sister’s house to celebrate with his family, he was hit by another motorist. It took 13 surgeries and seven months of hospital stays and rehab appointments to begin to heal his injuries. While Bill has recovered admirably, chronic, short-term memory loss makes it impossible for him to return to work. His disability insurance, however, saw him through recovery and will provide him with an income until he turns 65.

Bill wasn’t so different than any other 26-year-old. He didn’t go out and buy that disability policy on his own, armed with the knowledge that it could protect his current and future paychecks. Instead, it was Bill’s brother-in-law, his insurance agent, who had that tough conversation with him about the importance of disability insurance.

This is the conversation that we need to have with all of our clients who earn a paycheck. Ask them if they’ve protected their car, their home, and their paycheck. When they question you on that last point, that’s when you start the dialogue.

Marvin H. Feldman is the president and chief executive officer of the LIFE Foundation. He can be reached at mfeldman@lifehappens.org.