Understanding the dynamics and scope of disability is crucial for fostering an inclusive society where the diverse needs of its citizens are met. By examining the statistics around disability in Canada, we can gain a better understanding of disability in Canada, the types of disabilities, and the impact they have on the lives of Canadian individuals. The statistics can also help us gain insight into the barriers and challenges people with disabilities face in Canada and advocate for changes to overcome the barriers and challenges.

In this article, we have collated key data to give you an overview of disability in Canada.

Disability Statistics for Canadians

  • According to a survey on disabilities from 2022, over a ¼ Canadians have one or several disabilities.
  • Nova Scotia has the highest proportion of people with disabilities.
  • Between 2017 and 2022, the disability rate among 15-24-year-olds increased by 7 percentage points, the largest increase out of all the age groups.
  • Mental health-related disabilities have increased by six percentage points since 2017.
  • Younger Canadians are more likely to report mental health-related disabilities, while pain-related disabilities are the most common disability type among older Canadians.
  • Over 70% of Canadians with disabilities have more than one co-occurring disability.
  • Almost 60% of disabilities in Canada are mild or moderate.
  • 62% of Canadians who have disabilities were employed in 2022.
  • Households with people with disabilities have lower annual incomes than those without disabilities.

Definition of Disability in Canada

Disability as a phenomenon is complex and because of this, there is no single definition of disability across the different federal programmes in Canada. A disability can be temporary, permanent, or episodic and it can occur at any point in a person’s life. While some people are born with a disability, others can develop a disability later in their lives. Disabilities can improve, remain the same, or worsen. Sometimes disability can be the cause, other times it can be the result of injury, illness, disease, or substance abuse.

The bio-medical, traditional approach to disability is that it is a health or medical problem that reduces a person’s ability or prevents a person from participating fully in mainstream society.

Probably the most widely used definition is the one provided by the World Health Organisation, which states that disabilities are an umbrella term for activity limitations, impairments, and participation restrictions. Impairment refers to a problem in body structure or function, activity limitation to difficulties encountered when executing a task or actions, and participation restriction to problems experienced in involvement in life situations.

Canada Has Laws to Protect the Rights of People With Disabilities

People with disabilities are guaranteed equal rights in Canada. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms from 1982 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of physical or mental disability. It also governs relationships between government entities and private individuals. The 1985 Canadian Human Rights Act aims to prevent discrimination and improve disabled people’s access to services, employment, and facilities.

Approximately 8 million Canadians Have One or More Disability

The Canadian Survey on Disability found that in 2022, 27% of Canadians aged 15 or over, which is approximately 8 million people, had one or several disabilities that limited their daily activities.

Since 2017, the disability rate in Canada has increased by five percentage points. In 2017, approximately 6.2 million Canadians, which was 22% of the population had one or several disabilities. The increase is partly due to Canada’s aging population and partly because of a growing number of mental health-related disabilities among Canadian youth as well as working-age adults.

The rate of disability was higher among women than men in both surveys. In 2022, 30% of women had at least one disability, while the rate was 24% among men.

Disability Rates Across Canada

Provinces in Eastern Canada have higher proportions of people with disabilities compared to the rest of the country except for Yukon. In 2022, Nunavut had the smallest proportion of persons with disability and Nova Scotia had the highest. Below are the disability rates for each province and territory.

  • Nunavut 19.3%
  • Quebec 21%
  • Northwest Territories 25.7%
  • Alberta 27.5%
  • Ontario 28%
  • British Columbia 28.6%
  • Manitoba 29.2%
  • Saskatchewan 29.8%
  • Newfoundland and Labrador 30.9%
  • Yukon 31.4%
  • Prince Edward Island 31.8%
  • New Brunswick 35.3%
  • Nova Scotia 37.9%

The Disability Rate Has Grown the Most Among Canada’s Youth

Between the 2017 and 2022 disability surveys, the rate of disability increased in all age groups in Canada, including you (15-25 year olds), working-age people (25-64 year olds), and seniors (aged 65 and over). The increase was most notable among the youth where it increased by 7 percentage points from 13% in 2017 to 20% in 2022.

The disability rate increased by 4 percentage points among Canada’s working-age population from 20% in 2017 to 24% in 2022. Among the seniors, the rate increased by 3 percentage points to 40% in 2022. These percentages show that elderly Canadians are more likely to have disabilities than either working-age people or the youth.

Mental Health-Related Disabilities Are on the Rise

In 2022, 39% of people reporting a disability reported a mental health-related disability. This was 6 percentage points higher than in 2017. The increase is in line with other findings that relate to mental health in Canada, which show, for example, that the number of people reporting their mental health as good or excellent has decreased over the past year and the number of people reporting poor or fair mental health has increased.

The most common disability type in Canada is pain-related disability with 62% of all Canadians with disabilities reporting this type of disability. Disabilities related to flexibility and mobility were reported by 40% and 39% respectively.

Types of Disability in Different Age Groups in Canada

There were significant differences in types of disability between age groups. Among Canada’s youth, disabilities related to mental health were the most common type at 68%, followed by learning disabilities with 46%, and pain-related with 34%. The number of young and working-age people reporting mental health-related disabilities increased by 8 percentage points between the two survey years. This was the largest increase among all the age groups and disability types.

Among Canada’s working-age population, pain-related disabilities were the most commonly reported disability type at 63%. This was followed by mental health-related disabilities at 46% and flexibility at 36%. Among seniors, pain-related was the most common at 68%, while mobility-related disabilities were also high at 63%. The third most common type was disabilities linked to flexibility at 59%.

Many Canadians with Disabilities Have More Than One Disability

It is common for people with disabilities to have more than one type of disability. 29% of Canadians who reported disabilities in 2022 had just one disability. 37% of people with disabilities had two or three co-occurring disabilities while 34% had four or more. These rates were similar to those reported in the 2017 survey.

Older Canadians were more likely to have co-occurring disabilities. According to the 2022 survey results, 42% of seniors had four or more co-occurring disabilities. Among youth and working-age Canadians, having two or three co-occurring disabilities was the most common answer at 43% and 36% respectively.

Over Half of Disabilities in Canada Are Mild or Moderate

In 2022, 59% of Canadians with disabilities reported having mild or moderate disabilities. The remaining 41% had severe or very severe disabilities. The number of people with milder disabilities was up by two percentage points compared to 2017, while the proportion of those who reported more severe disabilities was down by the same amount.

Canadian women were more likely than men, at 43% and 39% respectively, to report severe or very severe disabilities.

Employment Among People with Disabilities is Increasing

The results of the surveys from 2017 and 2022 show that adults with disabilities who are of working age were more likely to be employed in 2022 than in 2017. The employment rate rose by three percentage points between the two survey years narrowing the gap between the employment rates for persons without disabilities and persons with disabilities.

In 2022, 62% of people with disabilities were in employment compared to 78% of people without disabilities. The gap between the groups narrowed by five percentage points.

The employment rate was higher among people who reported mild or moderate disabilities. 74% of Canadians with mild or moderate disabilities were part of the active workforce in 2022. Only 42% of people with more severe disabilities were employed. This highlights the need for assistive devices and technologies as well as workplace accommodations to further support people with disabilities to find employment.

Households With People With Disabilities Have Lower Annual Incomes

There are still significant differences in how much people with disabilities are earning compared to those without disabilities. According to Statista, 39% of Canadian households with disabilities earned less than $50,000 annually compared to 22% of households with no disability.

The number of households earning between $50,000 and $100,000 was 31% for both types of households. While 33% of households with no disabilities had an annual income of over $100,000, only 19% of households with disabilities were in this income group.

In 2022, according to the survey on disabilities, the median personal post-tax income of people with disabilities in Canada was $32,870. Among Canadians with no disabilities, the median income was $39,490. The median income for people with milder disabilities was $36,900, which was considerably higher than for people with more severe disabilities at $28,110.

Over 70% of Canadians with Disabilities Experience Barriers to Accessing Public Spaces

Despite improvements in making public spaces more accessible to people with disabilities, 72% of Canadians with disabilities reported experiencing at least one type of accessibility barrier within the year leading up to the 2022 disability survey. People with more severe disabilities reported experiencing at least nine types of barriers, while those with milder disabilities reported experiencing six types of barriers on average.

The most commonly experienced barriers were entrances, exits, and sidewalks at 56%. This was followed by communication-related barriers at 48%, behaviour-related barriers, such as misconceptions and assumptions at 37%, and barriers related to online activities at 17%.

The Accessible Canada Act was passed in 2019 to create a barrier-free Canada by 2040. This data shows that there is still plenty of work to do before all spaces are accessible to all Canadians.

Conclusion

The statistics on disability in Canada highlight how diverse the Canadian population is. It also highlights the growing occurrences of mental health-related disabilities in Canada, especially among younger Canadians, and the challenges disabled people face in Canada.

On the other hand, it also shows the improvements made in making Canadian society more accessible to everyone. The income gap between people with disabilities and those without disabilities has decreased. The number of people with disabilities who are in employment has also increased in recent years. However, to achieve the goal of a barrier-free Canada by 2040, plenty of work remains to be done.

Frequently Asked Questions

According to a survey on disabilities conducted in 2022, approximately 8 million Canadians had one or more disabilities. 

Overall, pain-related disabilities are the most common types of disability in Canada, especially among the elderly and working-age Canadians. However, among Canadians youth, the most commonly reported disabilities are mental health-related.

In 2022, 62% of Canadians with disabilities were in employment, which was three percentage points higher than five years earlier. However, Canadians with mild or moderate disabilities are much more likely to be in employment than those with more severe disabilities.

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