Impairment vs Disability: What Are the Differences?

Every year, more than 2.7 million nonfatal injuries take place in workplaces across the U.S. Hundreds of thousands of injuries occur outside of the workplace as well, and impair employees’ ability to do their job.

Whether you’ve been injured at work or are considering getting insurance to protect your financial future if you are injured and can no longer work, it’s important to understand the difference between impairment vs disability.

While often used interchangeably, these terms refer to different types of injuries and situations. It’s important to understand the difference if you plan to seek insurance coverage or if you have already been injured and are navigating the process of seeking worker’s comp.

Keep reading to learn the difference between impairment vs disability, and what you need to know about each.

What Is an Impairment?

Impairment refers to an injury or condition that results in an individual losing their normal function. This may include physical function, as well as psychological function.

For instance, if a person loses their arm in an accident, this would be considered an impairment.

Sometimes, a person can use a prosthetic to regain some of the physical ability lost as a result of their impairment. For instance, a person who has lost their arm may use a prosthetic in its place.

What Is a Disability?

By contrast, disability refers to a restriction or lack of ability to perform a certain function. You can have either a short term disability or a long term disability, depending on the severity and manner of your ailment or injury. 

For instance, a person may suffer a disability if they can no longer perform their job because they have lost their arm.

After suffering a disability, a person may be able to use tools or other accommodations to regain some function. For instance, a person who has lost a leg may have a disability that prevents them from walking. They may be able to use a wheelchair to regain their ability to navigate their surroundings.

Impairment vs Disability

So why aren’t impairments and disabilities terms that can be used interchangeably? While an impairment refers to the injury itself, disability refers to a person’s physical or mental abilities. 

A disability often occurs as a result of an impairment, but not vice versa.

When it comes to injuries in the workplace and worker’s compensation claims, this distinction is important. A person may suffer an impairment that doesn’t affect their ability to walk, talk, or otherwise do their job. Or they may suffer an impairment that also causes a disability.

For instance, they may no longer be able to walk or lift any weight. In this case, they may require accommodations or may need to be relieved of their duties, either temporarily or permanently.

In the case of the workplace, disability insurance can help to protect a person if they suffer an injury at work or outside of work that impacts their ability to work.

What does disability insurance cover? Typically, it covers lost wages if an individual suffers a disability that fits the definition of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Navigating a Disability or Impairment

Whether you have suffered an injury or simply want to be prepared in case one does occur. Understanding the difference between impairment vs disability is important.

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