Canadian Survey on Disability Reports
Canadian Survey on Disability, 2017: Concepts and Methods Guide

by Elisabeth Cloutier, Chantal Grondin and Amélie Lévesque

Release date: November 28, 2018

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1. Introduction

1.1 Survey overview

The 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD) is a national survey of Canadians aged 15 and over whose everyday activities are limited because of a long-term condition or health-related problem. The CSD was developed by Statistics Canada in collaboration with Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). Input for the survey was also obtained from the ESDC Persons with Disabilities Technical Advisory Group which consists of experts in the field of disability, including academics and representatives from various community associations across Canada. The survey was conducted from March 1 to August 31, 2017. 

The CSD is based on a social model of disabilities. The premise of the social model is that disability is the result of the interaction between a person’s functional limitations and barriers in the environment, including social and physical barriers that make it harder to function day-to-day. Thus, disability is a social disadvantage that an unsupportive environment imposes on top of an individual’s impairment (Mackenzie et al, 2009).

The 2017 CSD provides a range of data on 10 different disability types, focusing on activity limitations related to hearing, vision, mobility, flexibility, dexterity, pain, learning, mental health, memory and developmental disabilities.Note Different levels of severity are also measured. The survey includes data on the use of aids and assistive devices, daily help received or required by respondents, and the use of various therapies and social service supports. Survey content also addresses the education and employment experiences of persons with disabilities. Requirements and unmet needs for accommodations in these areas are included. Detailed indicators of labour market participation are captured as well as data related to labour force discrimination. Sources of income are also included. In addition, information on Internet usage and methods used to access government services are measured. Data for veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces with disabilities will also be available for the first time on the 2017 CSD.

Data from the CSD will provide an evidence-based foundation to serve disability and social policy analysts at all levels of government, as well as associations for persons with disabilities and researchers working in the field of disability policy and programs. The CSD will be used to plan and evaluate services, programs and policies for Canadian adults with disabilities to help enable their full participation in society. In particular, this information on adults with disabilities is essential for the effective development and operation of the Employment Equity Program. Data on disability are also used to fulfill Canada’s obligations relating to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The 2017 CSD was based on a sample of persons who reported having a long-term condition or difficulty on the Activities of Daily Living question from the 2016 Census long-form questionnaire, and who were 15 years of age or older as of the date of the Census, May 10, 2016. Since the census excludes the institutionalized population and those living in other collective dwellings, such as Canadian Armed Forces bases, the CSD only covers persons living in private dwellings in Canada. Also, for operational reasons, the population living on First Nation reserves is excluded. Total sample size for the CSD was approximately 50,000Note individuals. The overall collection response rate was 69.5%. The CSD provides reliable data on persons with disabilities for each province and territory in Canada and by age group.

1.2 Background

Data on disability in Canada have been collected for over 35 years, reflecting an evolving recognition of the importance of data to support the goal of full participation of persons with disabilities. Concepts and methods used in the production of data on disability have also evolved over time. The first survey on disability in Canada was conducted in 1981, the International Year of the Disabled, shortly after the Canadian Parliamentary Committee on the Disabled and the Handicapped published its report entitled “Obstacles”.  Among the report’s 130 recommendations was that Statistics Canada produce data on persons with disabilities. This recommendation read, in part:

“ … that the Federal Government direct Statistics Canada to give a high priority to the development and implementation of a long-term strategy which will generate comprehensive data on disabled persons in Canada, using population-based surveys and program data.”

This launched the Canadian Health and Disability Survey, which was conducted as a supplement to the October 1983 and June 1984 Labour Force Survey. In addition, the 1986 Census included a question about activity limitations that would help to identify persons who were likely to have a disability. Later that year, Statistics Canada used that census information to select a sample for the Health and Activity Limitation Survey (HALS), making it the first post-censal survey on disability. The 1986 HALS served to identify Canadians with disabilities and also to determine the limitations they experienced and the barriers they faced. A second HALS took place in 1991.

In 1996, no post-censal survey was conducted. However, in 1998, the federal, provincial and territorial governments released their common disability framework, In Unison, calling for the promotion of greater inclusion of persons with disabilities in all aspects of Canadian society. Their 1998 report noted the importance of developing a reliable statistical database on disability and underlined the key role survey data would play in supporting policy development and research in this area.

In 2001, the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF), was approved by all World Health Organization (WHO) member states, including Canada. The ICF defined disability as the relationship between body structures and functions, daily activities and social participation, while recognizing the role of environmental factors. Influenced by this new definition of disability driven by a social model approach, the HALS was redesignedNote and renamed as the Participation and Activity Limitations Survey (PALS). PALS was conducted in 2001 and 2006. The new name reflected the fact that the new survey would increase the focus on the participation of persons with activity limitations. Once again, it was conducted as a post-censal survey on disability, using census information to create a sampling frame. As with HALS, PALS was a joint effort by Statistics Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada (known in 2006 as Human Resources and Social Development Canada).

In 2010, Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In keeping with Article 31 on Statistics and Data Collection, ESDC launched the New Disability Data Strategy and began developing a new set of questions to identify persons with disabilities, called the Disability Screening Questions (DSQ). The DSQ sought to move more fully towards the social model of disability, to achieve greater consistency in disability identification by type, and to improve coverage of the full range of disability types, especially disabilities related to mental health, development, learning and memory. The DSQ instrument was extensively tested qualitatively and quantitatively and then used for the first time to identify adults with a disability on the 2012 CSD. The CSD provided a portrait of adult Canadians with disabilities in relation to their participation in society. A second CSD has now been conducted in 2017, continuing with the DSQ framework for the measurement of disability in Canada. It also continues in the tradition of a post-censal survey conducted on a five-year cycle. 

1.3 A Caution to users

Improvements were made to the methodology of the 2017 CSD which affect time series comparability with 2012 CSD data. Changes allowed the full implementation of the Disability Screening Questions (DSQ) for identifying persons with disabilities. In 2016, the Activities of Daily Living questions on the census, which serve to create the sampling frame for the CSD, were replaced by new filter questions taken from the DSQ framework. Qualitative and quantitative testing have shown that the new filter questions allow for better coverage overall of persons with disabilities, and especially of persons with disability types that are less visible, such as disabilities related to pain, memory, learning, development and mental health.

Because of these important changes, it is neither possible nor recommended to compare disability data over time between the 2012 and 2017 CSD. Any attempts at comparison will be considered invalid. A more in-depth discussion of these changes and their significance is provided in Chapter 8.

1.4 Purpose of the Concepts and Methods Guide

This Concepts and Methods Guide is intended to provide an understanding of the 2017 CSD with respect to its subject-matter content and its methodological approaches. It is designed to assist CSD data users by serving as a guide to the concepts and questions used in the survey as well as the technical details of survey design, data collection and data processing. The guide provides helpful information on how to use and interpret survey results. Its discussion of data quality also allows users to review the strengths and limitations of the data for their particular needs.

Chapter 1 of this guide provides an overview of the 2017 CSD by introducing the survey’s background and objectives. Chapter 2 discusses the survey’s content, explaining the key concepts and definitions used for the survey. This chapter introduces the CSD questionnaire modules as well as data linkages with the 2016 Census. Chapters 3 to 6 cover important aspects of the survey methodology, from sampling design, through data collection and processing and ending in the creation of final data files. Chapters 7 and 8 cover issues of data quality and caution users against making comparisons with data from the 2012 CSD. Chapter 9 outlines 2017 survey products that are more widely available to the public, including CSD data tables, an infographic, an analytical article, a short sign-language video and reference material. Appendices provide more detail on the questionnaire modules, the measurement of disability types and the disability severity score, questions used for assessing employment equity, supplementary coding categories for the survey and standard classifications used. Links to other key supporting documents for the survey are also provided.

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