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Learning to Adjust: Living with a Long-term Disability

living with a long term disability

The Ontario Nurses’ Association states that 1 in 3 Canadians will be disabled for 90 days or more at least once before they reach age 65. Macleans recently reported that each year, 6% of Canadian workers are forced to change their work status due to “a personal illness or disability, either taking an extended leave from work, changing the number of hours they work, or leaving the labour market entirely.”

While no one wants to imagine not being able to work, circumstances beyond our control, such as an accident or illness, can lead to injury and/or long term disability making employment impossible. The first thing you need to know when adjusting to life with a disability is that you are not alone. There are several resources, support networks and benefit plans available to help along the way.


Whether the disability is mental or physical, some individuals have to learn how to accept ongoing medical care, support and/or physical therapy sessions. Some disability cases result in a loss of mobility or motor function, requiring assisted living.

Instinctively, many people will dismiss or reject help. The idea of having to rely on something or someone is a huge adjustment that can threaten our pride and independent nature. Try to remember that your health and well-being are a top priority, so even if it is difficult to ask for help, gaining access to therapy and support services can greatly enhance quality of life.

Resources to get you started:

Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP)

The RDSP is a long-term savings plan on behalf of the Government of Canada to help Canadians with disabilities and their families save for the future.

Government of Canada Assisted Living Program

The Assisted Living Program is an income dependent residency-based program that provides funding to assist in non-medical, social support services to adults with chronic illness, and children and adults with disabilities (mental and physical) so that they can maintain functional independence and achieve greater self-reliance.

Occupational Therapy Services

Occupational therapy works to break down the barriers which impede individuals in their everyday activities. Occupational therapists examine not only the physical effects of an injury or disease, but also address the psycho-social, community and environmental factors that influence function.


Facing the challenges that lie ahead can be overwhelming, stressful, and downright scary. As with any big life change, the emotional aspect tends to take the biggest toll on us. Feelings of denial, grief and depression are commonly felt when learning how to accept, cope and survive financially with a disability.

Thankfully there are resources, including family and friends, to help with this transition. Make sure you surround yourself with a strong support system, one that can help you maintain a positive attitude throughout both good and bad days.

When you feel comfortable enough, don’t be afraid to open up about your situation. Be honest about any challenges and changing emotions, this will help the healing process and encourage others to remain open and honest with you.

Things to Keep in Mind:

Living with a disability has the potential to affect everyone in the household. Work on keeping open lines of communication so that no family member feels unheard or left out.

Be patient with yourself and your loved ones as you all adjust to new circumstances, challenges and emotions.

Don’t be afraid to enlist the help of an experienced counsellor or therapist. Most people are not naturally inclined to deal with change well, help is always available if you need it.


Long term disability insurance exists to replace income in the event of becoming disabled, either mentally or physically. These benefits apply to individuals with a long term disability who cannot work, in any capacity, for a long period of time.

Long-Term Disability Benefits are available through:

• Individual insurance plans (private or auto insurance)

• Group insurance plans (offered through an employer, union or association)

• Special purpose plans

Government plans

Note: Insurance plans in Ontario typically cover 65 – 80%* of total employment income. You are allowed to claim disability benefits from more than one source, but most plans ensure that the combined benefits received are no greater than your total income.

*The exact amount you are entitled to claim will be determined by the insurance plan and individual circumstances.

Individual Insurance

Disability insurance helps you meet your financial obligations by replacing your income if you have to stop working as a result of an accident or illness. The benefit amount is based on a percentage of your regular earnings (salary, commissions, etc)  and unlike the CPP disability benefit which has some restrictions, you can use the monthly benefit as you see fit.

Group Insurance

You may be entitled to long term disability benefits under your employee benefit package or group insurance, if included in your employer, union or association’s plan.

The Ontario Work Safety Insurance Board (WSIB)

If an incident on the job results in an injury and/or disability, the WSIB is in place to provide care and support. Under Ontario’s workplace safety and insurance program, all businesses are required to have WSIB coverage in place.

WSIB also offers return to work assistance for individuals who overcome their injuries/illness and want to re-enter the workforce.

Canada Pension Plan (CPP) Disability Benefit

The largest long term disability government insurance program, the CPP disability benefit is a taxable monthly payment that is available to people who have contributed to CPP and are not able to work regularly at any job because of a “severe or prolonged” disability.


Talk to someone who has experience dealing with insurer denials, or who can deal with the insurer on your behalf. Trying to navigate through insurance company jargon can be confusing, frustrating and exhausting.

A personal injury lawyer can help you read the fine print to ensure you have the evidence and documents needed to support your case. They can help you file a claim, or appeal your claim for compensation, providing access to industry leading medical experts, occupational therapists, pain management, and life care plans that can help make rehabilitation a little more comfortable.

Read more about making a Long Term Disability Claim.

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