Disability rates rise in Canada as millions face barriers to essential support

Jun 6, 2024 | Canadian News, Headlines, News

A new Statistics Canada report has shown a considerable increase in disability among Canadians, especially young people struggling with mental health issues.

The report revealed a five per cent increase in the number of people, or 1.7 million more people with disabilities between 2017 and 2022. The number of people with disabilities accounts for 27 per cent of Canadians, up from 22 per cent, totalling nearly 8 million.

Tanya Titchkosky, University of Toronto’s Disability Studies expert, said very little has changed for disabled people.

“If you consider the stats closely, little has changed except that now the government has more ways to designate disability,” Titchkosky said.

There has been a three per cent increase in the employment rate of people with disabilities, but significant disparities continue to exist in income, poverty rates, accessibility and support.

A neurodivergent and disability activist, Karl Johnston said the country isn’t prepared for inclusion.

“Not all jurisdictions have an Accessibility Act,” Johnston said.

He said there is a need for investment in infrastructure, especially in rural areas and the inclusion of intersectional voices with disabilities in policymaking.

“People with disabilities have a right to free movement within all parts of our country,” Johnston said.

The most prevalent types of disability are pain and discomfort, making up 23 per cent, followed by mental health issues at 19 per cent and mobility limits at 18 per cent, the report stated.

Statistics Canada reported the largest increase in mental health-related disability, especially among young women (15 to 24 years old), where the rate has doubled since 2017.

Ehwar Dutt, 20, has a borderline personality disorder. She said her diagnosis has been painful but not surprising.

“I think the stresses of existences have manifested themselves as my diagnoses,” Dutt said.

She said most of her peers are going through mental health issues, mostly anxiety or depression.

“It’s too much for anyone,” Dutt said.

The report also points to concerning financial inequalities. Those without disabilities have a poverty rate of 12 per cent, while those with disabilities have a 23 per cent poverty rate.

Johnston said the impact of inflation on people with disabilities needs to be considered.

“Often, by nature people with disabilities are known to have higher costs,” Johnston said.

He said that how disability-related costs are handled may have systematic problems, and the way inflation affects this demographic makes the situation worse.

A significant disparity continues to exist between those with and without disabilities, despite a slight improvement in employment rates.

People without disabilities have an employment rate of 83 per cent, whereas those with disabilities have an employment rate of 59 per cent, according to the report.

Johnston said businesses must be held accountable for fostering inclusive work environments and there should be an emphasis on enforcement.

“This country is too rich and powerful to let one-fourth of its population go unseen and unheard,” he said.

“That quest to find happiness should be available for all, and not only a segment of the wealthiest and most able-bodied of Canadians,” Johnston said.

According to the report, the median income of people with disabilities is $34,000, while for people without disabilities is $53,000.

More than half of Canadians with disabilities, roughly 4.5 million people, reported having unmet needs.

A woman on a wheelchair.

A woman on a wheelchair. Photo credit: pexels/MarcusAurelius

Cost has been reported as the primary reason for unmet needs by 3.2 million persons with disabilities.

Affordability of health care services is the most prevalent unmet need, impacting 2.3 million, or 29 per cent, followed by prescription drugs (1 million, 13 per cent) and aids and devices (1.2 million, 16 per cent).

Johnston said increased healthcare availability and reduced wait times will positively affect all Canadians, especially people with disabilities.

“The lack of healthcare access across Canada hits people with disabilities harder than people without disabilities,” he said. “I believe this exasperates higher costs on people with disabilities on its own.”