Approximately one in four adults have a disability that impacts their daily lives. That equals roughly 64 million people in the United States. About one in seven people have the most common disability type, which is mobility. 

Six common disability types include:

  • Mobility
  • Cognition
  • Hearing
  • Vision
  • Independent living
  • Self-care

There are many ways a person may become disabled. Getting into a car accident or getting injured at work at common accidents that can result in disabilities. Slips and falls and certain medical conditions can also cause a person to become disabled.

Regardless of how you develop a disabling condition, becoming unexpectedly disabled can be a challenging situation to handle. Knowing what to do when you become disabled does not change the situation, but it can help you learn to cope with limitations and other changes in your life. 

Knowing What to Do When You Become Disabled

Six things to keep in mind if you become unexpectedly disabled are:

1.  Take Your Time to Cope

An unexpected accident or illness that results in disability can be devastating. The sudden changes caused by the disability can be overwhelming, frightening, and frustrating. Dealing with your anger, grief, and other emotions is the first step in the priority list of what to do when you become disabled. 

Taking time to process what has happened to you is essential. Do not rush yourself. You set your own terms and timeline for dealing with the consequences of a tragic accident, injury, or illness.

2.  Look Into Disability Assistance

There are many different types of disability assistance available through private and public companies and government agencies. Programs are available to help you deal with the emotional, physical, and financial needs associated with your disability.

Examples of the types of assistance that you might want to consider as you make a list of what to do when you become disabled include:

  • Workers’ Compensation – You may need to look into receiving services through workers’ comp if a workplace accident caused your disability. You may be eligible to receive medical benefits, cash benefits, and long-term disability benefits for a workplace injury.
  • Group Disability Insurance – Your employer may provide disability insurance. The insurance provides financial assistance to help replace the income you lost because of your disability.
  • Social Security Disability – If you are disabled, you might qualify for SSDI or SSI disability benefits from the government. You receive a monthly amount to help with living expenses if you cannot work because of a disability. 
  • Private Disability Insurance – Private disability policies provide income assistance, but you must purchase these policies before you become disabled.
  • State Disability Programs – New York requires employers to provide disability benefits for employees who become disabled because of off-the-job illnesses or accidents. These benefits provide financial assistance only. Medical care is not included.
  • Medicaid and Medicare – If you are disabled, you may qualify for medical care under Medicare or Medicaid. You must meet certain income and other eligibility requirements to obtain coverage through these government programs.

There could also be other types of assistance available if you are disabled. Add checking for local and state programs available to individuals with disabilities to your list of what to do when you become disabled. For example, the NYC Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities has resources for housing, transportation, and social services.

3.  Get Legal Help

Many people who become disabled unexpectedly need legal assistance to navigate the requirements and the application process for various programs and benefits. 

They may need a lawyer to assist them as they seek disability benefits, including income benefits and medical care. Finding the right attorney to deal with the cause of your disability, as well as the related issues caused by the disability, can be very beneficial and helpful.

For example, you may need a lawyer to help you file a lawsuit against the party who caused your disabling condition seeking compensation for your damages. You may also need an attorney if you need to appeal a workers’ compensation, Social Security, or insurance decision. 

Regardless of the help that you might need, having the support of a legal advocate while you adjust to your new “normal” can be comforting as well as useful.

4.  Make a Financial Plan

It can be difficult to know what to do when you become disabled about the changes in your financial situation. Most individuals who become disabled unexpectedly have significant changes in their finances. They are unable to work and may not have the income and resources they need to provide for their care and living expenses.

It can help to make a financial plan for dealing with both short-term and long-term financial needs, including living expenses and health care. Create a household budget to try to identify areas in which you can reduce spending. 

You may want to discuss your finances with a professional financial planner to help you determine the best ways to cover expenses and what resources to use first as you weigh your options and apply for disability benefits. 

5.  Take Care of Your Mental Health

Developing a disability of any type, whether short or long-term, can be stressful and frightening. Many individuals who become disabled unexpectedly deal with depression, anxiety, and other emotional disorders. 

Finding ways to deal with the stress and take care of your mental health should also be priorities on your list of what to do when you become disabled. 

You may want to find a therapist, counselor, or other mental health professional that can help you deal with the emotional consequences of a disability. You may also want to explore other ways of dealing with stress, such as mediation, taking up a new interest or hobby, and joining a support group.

6.  Develop a Support Network

You are not expected to know what to do when you become disabled without help. Regardless of the circumstances, having a support network of individuals to provide guidance, advice, emotional encouragement, physical aid, and other forms of support is essential in dealing with a disabling condition. 

Members of your support network may include:

  • Family members and friends
  • Members of a support group
  • Other people with similar disabilities
  • Physicians and health care providers
  • Mental health professionals
  • Lawyers 

Each of the above individuals can offer support and guidance with different issues that you face as you adjust to having a disabling condition. As you encounter new challenges, they can offer help and support. 

When you are ready, you can give back to the community by becoming a member of another person’s network to provide the support they need as they learn what to do when you become disabled.