The Hartford, Olympians to Advocate ‘Death of Disability’ at SXSW

March 7, 2016

New research has placed a spotlight on a gap between what Americans say about themselves and what they think about others when it comes to disability in the workplace and sports.

According to the research by The Hartford, a leading group disability insurance provider, most Americans in the national survey said they would want to work and stay fit if they became physically disabled, but fewer felt strongly that people with disabilities could be world-class athletes or as productive as employees without physical limitations.

“Advances in technology and medicine, along with cultural changes, are helping to redefine what it means to be disabled, but this new research shows misconceptions linger,” said Mike Concannon, executive vice president of The Hartford’s Group Benefits business.

A majority (76 percent) of Americans said they would find a way to be productive after a physical disability, even if it meant training and taking a new job. However, only one in four (26 percent) felt strongly that people with physical disabilities could perform most jobs done by individuals without disabilities.

Additional key findings of The Hartford’s Disabling Perceptions Survey:

  • 50 percent of Americans feel strongly people with disabilities can be physically fit;
  • 46 percent strongly agree physically disabled employees are as productive as workers without a disability; and
  • 44 percent strongly agree people with physical disabilities can be world-class athletes.

The researchers suggest that the conflicting opinions found in the survey may stem from how Americans define disability. When asked what they consider a physical disability, survey participants’ top answers were paraplegia or quadriplegia (77 percent), loss of a limb (70 percent), and blindness/visual impairment (69 percent).

“In today’s highly competitive marketplace, the companies that attract and retain top talent will be those with diverse and inclusive cultures, up-to-date technology, and resources that support employees’ desire to enjoy active, productive lives,” said Lindsey Pollak, The Hartford’s workplace expert and best-selling author.


Pollak will delve deeper into the “death of disability” at South By Southwest (SXSW), the annual film, music and technology festival in Austin, Texas. In a panel discussion on March 11, Pollak and U.S. Paralympic gold medalists Alana Nichols and Brad Snyder will discuss how technology, medical advancements, and demographic changes are leveling the playing field between athletes with disabilities and those without.

Snyder and Nichols are among a team of athlete ambassadors for The Hartford, which recently renewed its founding partnership with U.S. Paralympics, a division of the United States Olympic Committee dedicated to training elite athletes with physical and visual disabilities. The Hartford has supported U.S. Paralympic athletes for more than 20 years.

Inclusive Workplace

The Hartford commissioned the survey to understand perceptions of disability, as well as employers’ support of people with disabilities.

While Americans said they want to return to work after a disability, they were uncertain of their employers’ support of people with disabilities:

  • One in four (25 percent) strongly agree their employer provides an adequate level of accommodations to people with physical disabilities;
  • Only 23 percent strongly agree their employer is up-to-date on the technology that allows people with physical disabilities to work there; and
  • Just 13 percent strongly agree their employer actively recruits people with disabilities.

“The survey highlighted Americans’ strong will to prevail, but also an opportunity for increased support of people with disabilities,” said Concannon.

The Hartford’s 2016 Disabling Perceptions Survey is a national survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers, 18 years of age and older. Questions related to employer accommodations for people with disabilities were only asked of consumers who are employed.

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