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People with disabilities often require assistive devices, modifications to their home environment, and physical assistance to facilitate mobility. This study examines self-reported met and unmet needs of people with disabilities who use wheeled mobility devices, compared with non-users.

Data and methods

The 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability followed up with 45,442 individuals who reported a disability on the 2011 National Household Survey, and obtained a 75% response rate. Descriptive statistics with variance estimates and 95% confidence intervals were used to compare wheeled mobility device users and non-users.


Nearly 10% of wheeled mobility device users identified an unmet need for an additional mobility device. Compared with non-users, they were twice as likely to modify their home with a ramp and three times as likely to install a lift. The prevalence of unmet need for each type of residence adaptation among wheeled mobility device users was at least double that of non-users. Wheeled mobility device users received assistance with an average of 4.4 activities, compared with 2.0 for non-users, and reported an average of 1.9 activities for which assistance was needed but not received. About one in three relied on paid assistance; for 14% of those who paid for assistance, out-of-pocket expenses amounted to $10,000 or more annually, compared with 2% among non-users.


Wheeled mobility device users reported a higher prevalence of met and unmet needs for residence modifications than did non-users. They required help with more activities of life on a more frequent basis, with greater dependence on paid individuals, resulting in higher out-of-pocket expenses. Power and manual wheelchair users reported greater needs than did mobility scooter users.


Activities of daily living, architectural accessibility, assistive devices, ramps, social participation, wheelchairs


Mobility limitations affect many Canadians, but all types of impairment do not have a comparable impact on activity performance or contribute to the same degree of disability. In a national survey, 13.7% of Canadians reported having a disability, which was defined as a health problem or condition that created difficulty in performing activities of living at least some of the time. Mobility was the third most common impairment, and in 96% of cases, was accompanied by at least one other type of disability. [Full Text]


Edward M. Giesbrecht (Ed.Giesbrecht@umanitoba.ca) is with the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba. Emma M. Smith, W. Ben Mortenson and William C. Miller are with the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia.

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What is already known on this subject?

  • Mobility limitation is the third most common type of disability.
  • Wheelchair users experience additional barriers.
  • The number and percentage of Canadians using wheelchairs is growing.

What does this study add?

  • People with disabilities who use wheeled mobility devices identify more needs, both met and unmet, for residence adaptation and assistance with activities of daily life than do non-users.
  • Needs for mobility devices and dwelling modifications are unmet primarily because of cost.
  • Wheeled mobility device users are more reliant on people outside of their social network and spend more money to obtain this help.
  • Wheelchair users had greater needs than did mobility scooter users.

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