Canadian Survey on Disability Reports
A demographic, employment and income profile of Canadians with disabilities aged 15 years and over, 2017

by Stuart Morris, Gail Fawcett, Laurent Brisebois, Jeffrey Hughes

Release date: November 28, 2018
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Highlights

  • In 2017, one in five (22%) of the Canadian population aged 15 years and over – or about 6.2 million individuals – had one or more disabilities.
  • The prevalence of disability increased with age, from 13% for those aged 15 to 24 years to 47% for those aged 75 years and over.
  • Women (24%) were more likely to have a disability than men (20%).
  • Disabilities related to pain, flexibility, mobility, and mental health were the most common disability types.
  • Among youth (aged 15 to 24 years), however, mental health-related disabilities were the most prevalent type of disability (8%).
  • Among those aged 25 to 64 years, persons with disabilities were less likely to be employed (59%) than those without disabilities (80%).
  • As the level of severity increased, the likelihood of being employed decreased. Among individuals aged 25 to 64 years, 76% of those with mild disabilities were employed, whereas 31% of those with very severe disabilities were employed.
  • Among those with disabilities aged 25 to 64 years who were not employed and not currently in school, two in five (39%) had potential to work. This represents nearly 645,000 individuals with disabilities.
  • Persons with more severe disabilities (28%) aged 25 to 64 years were more likely to be living in poverty (as measured by the Market Basket Measure) than their counterparts without disabilities (10%) or with milder disabilities (14%).
  • Among those with disabilities aged 15 to 64 years, lone parents and those living alone were the most likely to be living in poverty among any type of household living arrangements. Since eight in ten lone parents were women, the high risk of living in poverty in this group disproportionately affected women.
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Introduction

The prevalence of disabilities (whether it be physical, sensory, cognitive, or mental health-related) among Canadians is more common than one may realize. In fact, millions of Canadians have at least one disability. Understanding this unique population and the challenges some may face in their personal, employment, or economic situations have important implications on all facets of society including informing government policy, employment and education support services, and disability-based outreach programs within the community – to name a few.

This article represents the first main release by Statistics Canada based on findings from the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD; see Textbox 1 for more information). It is divided into three sections – demographics, employment, and income – and is guided by three main questions: What is the prevalence of disabilities in Canada? How does the employment level of persons with disabilities compare to those without disabilities? How does income compare between persons with and without disabilities, and what implications does this have regarding poverty? This article considers a number of factors that may have a meaningful impact on employment and income for persons with disabilities, including severity of disabilities, age, gender, education, and living arrangements. As a first release, this profile article is intended only to provide a general snapshot on persons with disabilities to inform on emerging government priorities (such as Opportunity for All: Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy; Government of Canada, 2018) and community interest in the areas of disability prevalence, labour market participation, and income inequality.

Why results from 2017 CSD cannot be compared with 2012

The 2017 CSD provides better coverage of persons with disabilities compared to 2012. As such it is not possible to compare trends over time such as the prevalence of disability between 2012 and 2017. While both the 2017 and 2012 CSD used the Disability Screening Questions (DSQ) to identify individuals with a disability on the survey itself, the sampling frame for the two surveys differed. The CSD is post-censal in design, relying on filter questions contained on the Census long formNote to build a sampling frame from a population of individuals most likely to have a disability. The sampling frame for the 2012 CSD used an older set of filter questions, while the 2017 CSD used a new set of filter questions placed on the 2016 Census long form. These new filter questions were designed to ensure better overall coverage 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 (Grondin, 2016). A more in-depth discussion of the changes between the 2012 and 2017 CSD can be found in the Canadian Survey on Disability, 2017: Concepts and Methods Guide.

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About the Canadian Survey on Disability

Canada has collected data on disability for more than 30 years. However, since 2012, the Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD) is Canada’s main source of data on disabilities for those aged 15 years and over. The CSD provides comprehensive data on persons with disabilities for each province and territory in Canada and by age group. The survey also collects essential information on disability types and severity, supports for persons with disabilities, their employment profiles, income, education, and other disability-specific information.

The survey population was comprised of Canadians aged 15 years and over as of the date of the 2016 Census of the Population (May 10, 2016) who were living in private dwellings. It excludes those living in institutions, on Canadian Armed Forces bases, on First Nations reserves and those living in other collective dwellings. As the institutionalized population is excluded, the data, particularly for the older age groups, should be interpreted accordingly.

The CSD uses Canada’s new Disability Screening Questions (DSQ) which were developed between 2010 and 2012. The DSQ is based on the social model of disability. This model defines disability as the relationship between body function and structure, daily activities and social participation, while recognizing the role of environmental factors. In keeping with this framework, the CSD targeted respondents who not only have a difficulty or impairment due to a long-term condition or health problem but also experience a limitation in their daily activities. The CSD definition of disability includes anyone who reported being “sometimes”, “often” or “always” limited in their daily activities due to a long-term condition or health problem, as well as anyone who reported being “rarely” limited if they were also unable to do certain tasks or could only do them with a lot of difficulty.

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Section 1: Demographics

Section 1 begins with an overview of key demographics of Canadians with disabilities. In addition to overall prevalence, information is provided on the severity, types, and number of disabilities, and how these differ by age and gender.Note

1.1 Prevalence of Disabilities

One in five Canadians aged 15 years and over had a disability

The prevalence of disabilities in Canada may be more common than one may think. In 2017, 22% of the Canadian population aged 15 years and over – or about 6.2 million individuals – had one or more disabilities (Table 1).


Table 1
Canadian population aged 15 years and over, by age group and disability status, 2017
Table summary
This table displays the results of Canadian population aged 15 years and over. The information is grouped by Age group (appearing as row headers), Total Population, Persons without disabilities, Persons with disabilities and Prevalence of disability, calculated using number and percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Age group Total Population Persons without disabilities Persons with disabilities Prevalence of disability
number percent
Total - aged 15 years and over 28,008,860 21,762,230 6,246,640 22.3
15 to 24 years 4,155,440 3,609,040 546,410 13.1
25 to 64 years 18,636,250 14,908,330 3,727,920 20.0
25 to 44 years 8,940,410 7,572,150 1,368,270 15.3
45 to 64 years 9,695,840 7,336,190 2,359,650 24.3
65 years and over 5,217,160 3,244,860 1,972,310 37.8
65 to 74 years 3,241,250 2,204,670 1,036,580 32.0
75 years and over 1,975,920 1,040,190 935,730 47.4

Seniors are almost twice as likely to have a disability as those of working age

The prevalence of disability increased with age. Disability ranged from 13% among youth aged 15 to 24 years to almost half (47%) among persons aged 75 years and over. Among working age adults aged 25 to 64 years, 20% had a disability; for seniors aged 65 years and over, this figure was almost double at 38%.

Disabilities are more prevalent among women

The prevalence of disability for both women and men rose with age. However, women were consistently more likely to have a disability than men across different age groups (Chart 1). For example, among those aged 15 years and over, the prevalence of disabilities was 24% for women versus 20% for men. The largest gap in the proportion of women and men with disabilities (around four percentage points) occurred for those aged 15 to 24 years, 25 to 44 years, and 75 years and over.

Chart 1

Data table for Chart 1 
Data table for chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for chart 1. The information is grouped by Age group (appearing as row headers), Women and Men, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Age group Women Men
percent
15 to 24
years
15.6 10.8
25 to 44
years
17.7 12.9
45 to 64
years
25.2 23.4
65 to 74
years
33.3 30.5
75 years
and over
49.2 45.0
Total - aged 15 years and over 24.3 20.2

One in five are classified as having a “very severe” disability

A global severity score was developed for the CSD, which was calculated for each person using the number of disability types that a person has, the level of difficulty experienced in performing certain tasks, and the frequency of activity limitations. To simplify the concept of severity, four severity classes were established: mild, moderate, severe, and very severe. Of the 6.2 million Canadians aged 15 years and over with a disability, 37% were classified as having a mild disability; 20%, a moderate disability; 21%, a severe disability; and 22%, a very severe disability (Table 2). When compared to their male counterparts, women with disabilities were more likely to have “severe” or “very severe” disabilities. On the other hand, men with disabilities were more likely to have “mild” disabilities than their female counterparts.


Table 2
Canadian population aged 15 years and over with a disability, by severity and sex, 2017
Table summary
This table displays the results of Canadian population aged 15 years and over with a disability. The information is grouped by Global severity class (appearing as row headers), Both , Women and Men, calculated using number and percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Global severity class Both Women Men
number percent number percent number percent
Total 6,246,640 100.0 3,483,090 100.0 2,763,540 100.0
Mild* 2,324,430 37.2 1,247,400 35.8 1,077,040 39.0
Moderate 1,242,910 19.9 673,690 19.3 569,220 20.6
Severe* 1,295,660 20.7 756,760 21.7 538,910 19.5
Very severe* 1,383,630 22.1 805,250 23.1 578,380 20.9

1.2 Types of Disabilities

Disabilities related to pain, flexibility, mobility and mental health were the most common

Disabilities related to pain (15%), flexibility (10%), mobility (10%) and mental health (7%) were the most common among Canadians aged 15 years and over (Table 3). This was followed by seeing (5%), hearing (5%), dexterity (5%), learning (4%), and memory (4%). Developmental disabilities were the least prevalent type representing approximately 1% of those aged 15 years and over. Women had a higher prevalence of most disability types, with the exception of hearing, learning, and developmental disabilities.


Table 3
Canadian population aged 15 years and over with a disability, by disability type and sex, 2017
Table summary
This table displays the results of Canadian population aged 15 years and over with a disability. The information is grouped by Disability type (appearing as row headers), Both , Women and Men, calculated using number and percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Disability type Both Women Men
number percent number percent number percent
Total population - aged 15 years and over 28,008,860 100.0 14,345,330 100.0 13,663,530 100.0
Pain-related* 4,062,000 14.5 2,374,230 16.6 1,687,770 12.4
Flexibility* 2,795,110 10.0 1,568,970 10.9 1,226,140 9.0
Mobility* 2,676,370 9.6 1,601,010 11.2 1,075,350 7.9
Mental health-related* 2,027,370 7.2 1,272,490 8.9 754,880 5.5
Seeing* 1,519,840 5.4 903,040 6.3 616,800 4.5
Hearing* 1,334,520 4.8 619,360 4.3 715,160 5.2
Dexterity* 1,275,610 4.6 784,120 5.5 491,490 3.6
Learning 1,105,680 3.9 560,970 3.9 544,700 4.0
Memory* 1,050,840 3.8 575,760 4.0 475,080 3.5
Developmental* 315,470 1.1 123,310 0.9 192,160 1.4
Unknown 155,810 0.6 75,150 0.5 80,660 0.6

Pain-related disabilities most common among seniors

The prevalence of disability types varied by age as well as gender. For example, fewer than 5% of youth aged 15 to 24 years had either a pain-related, flexibility, or mobility disability, but the prevalence of each of these types was around 23% to 26% for those aged 65 years and over (Table 4). For youth, mental health-related (8%) and learning (6%) were the most common disability types. 


Table 4
Canadian population aged 15 years and over with a disability, by disability type and age group, 2017
Table summary
This table displays the results of Canadian population aged 15 years and over with a disability. The information is grouped by Disability type (appearing as row headers), Total - aged 15 years and over, 15 to 24 years, 25 to 64 years and 65 years and over, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Disability type Total - aged 15 years and over 15 to 24 years 25 to 64 years 65 years and over
percent
Pain-related 14.5 4.4 13.5 26.2
Flexibility 10.0 1.7 8.2 22.8
Mobility 9.6 1.6 7.3 24.1
Mental health-related 7.2 7.8 7.6 5.4
Seeing 5.4 2.4 4.9 9.7
Hearing 4.8 0.9 3.6 12.2
Dexterity 4.6 1.1 3.5 10.9
Learning 3.9 5.5 3.8 3.3
Memory 3.8 2.5 3.6 5.4
Developmental 1.1 2.4 1.0 0.5
Unknown 0.6 0.4 0.5 0.8

Three out of five youth with disabilities have a mental health-related disability

As previously discussed, the most prevalent disability type among youth was mental health-related (8%). This represented approximately 60% of the over half a million (546,410) youth aged 15 to 24 years with disabilities.  Although the prevalence of mental health-related disabilities was higher overall for women than men (9% compared to 6% respectively; Table 5), this difference was particularly pronounced for those aged 15 to 24 years, among whom the ratio was two to one (11% compared to 5%, respectively).


Table 5
Canadian population aged 15 years and over with a mental health-related disability, by age group and sex, 2017
Table summary
This table displays the results of Canadian population aged 15 years and over with a mental health-related disability. The information is grouped by Age group (appearing as row headers), Both, Women and Men, calculated using number and percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Age group Both Women Men
number percent number percent number percent
Total - aged 15 years and over 2,027,370 7.2 1,272,490 8.9 754,880 5.5
15 to 24 years 325,670 7.8 213,630 10.6 112,040 5.3
25 to 44 years 658,460 7.4 422,230 9.3 236,240 5.4
45 to 64 years 762,810 7.9 469,270 9.4 293,530 6.2
65 to 74 years 181,530 5.6 104,800 6.2 76,730 4.9
75 years and over 98,900 5.0 62,570 5.6 36,340 4.2

Over two-thirds of persons with disabilities have at least two or more disability types

Of the 6.2 million Canadians with disabilities aged 15 years and over, 29% had only one disability type; 38% had two or three disability types; and 33% had four or more (Chart 2). In general, the number of disability types increased with age. For example, 19% of youth aged 15 to 24 years had four or more disability types, but the percentage jumped to 44% for those aged 75 and over.

Chart 2

Data table for Chart 2 
Data table for chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for chart 2 Age group, 15 to 24
years, 25 to 44
years, 45 to 64
years , 65 to 74
years, 75 years
and over and Total - aged
15 years and over, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Age group
15 to 24
years
25 to 44
years
45 to 64
years
65 to 74
years
75 years
and over
Total - aged
15 years and over
percent
4 or more disability types 19.0 22.0 37.6 35.1 44.2 33.1
2 or 3 disability types 40.5 37.9 35.6 41.6 35.9 37.6
1 disability type 40.5 40.1 26.8 23.3 19.8 29.3

Section 2: Employment

Employment has important implications for the economic security of individuals and their families (International Labour Office, 2004). It can also be viewed as a key indicator of inclusion in society, providing individuals with a sense of fulfillment and purpose. Yet, past research has consistently indicated that persons with disabilities are less likely to be employed than those without disabilities (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018; Eurostat, 2015; Till et al., 2015; Turcotte, 2014). In an effort to address this, Article 27 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which Canada ratified in 2010, calls for recognition of “the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others”, by providing a work environment that is “inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities”. This section examines the employment rates for working age adults (aged 25 to 64 years), youth (aged 15 to 24 years), and early seniors (aged 65 to 69 years) with disabilities—examining some basic indicators in the area of employment and the potential size of the labour force with disabilities in an inclusive, accessible, and accommodating labour market. It also explores the relationship between employment and gender, severity of disability, and educational attainment.

2.1 Employment RatesNote among Adults Aged 25 to 64 Years

Employment decreases as severity of disability increases

Consistent with previous research noted above, adults with disabilities in the 2017 CSD had lower rates of employment than those without disabilities. For example, among those aged 25 to 64 years, three in five (59%) persons with disabilities were employed compared to four in five (80%) of those without disabilities (Table 6). Moreover, the rate of employment for persons with more severe disabilities was even lower, with employment rates decreasing as the severity of disability increased—ranging from 76% among those with mild disabilities to 31% among those with very severe disabilities.


Table 6
Employment of Canadian population aged 25 to 64 years, by disability status and severity, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Employment of Canadian population aged 25 to 64 years Number and Percent (appearing as column headers).
Number Percent
Persons without disabilities 11,947,870 80.1
Persons with disabilities 2,212,490 59.4
Global severity class
Mild 1,131,670 75.6
Moderate 476,620 66.5
Severe 359,810 49.0
Very severe 244,400 31.3

For ease of discussion, the rest of this article combines the “mild” and “moderate” categories into a “milder” severity class, and the “severe” and “very severe” categories into a “more severe” severity class.

Just three in ten persons with more severe disabilities aged 55 to 64 years were employed

Employment patterns across age groups differed according to severity of disability. Among both persons without disabilities and persons with milder disabilities, employment rates were fairly equivalent across age groups between ages 25 and 54 years, with about eight in ten employed (see columns titled “Both” in Table 7). However, lower employment rates were found among older adults aged 55 to 64 years compared to younger age groups—67% of those without disabilities and 58% of those with milder disabilities were employed. In contrast, among those with more severe disabilities, employment patterns were less consistent across age groups: about half of those aged 25 to 34 years and those aged 35 to 44 years were employed, but this declined among those aged 45 to 54 years to 41%, and dropped off again to 30% for those aged 55 to 64 years.

These findings raise an important question about whether those who develop a more severe disability earlier in life begin to encounter new and greater barriers as they age, or, since the likelihood of acquiring a disability increases with age, whether this represents an influx of people acquiring a severe disability after the age of 45 and experiencing greater challenges with work retention. Further work needs to be done to understand the role of age of onset of disability on labour market participation.


Table 7
Employment of Canadian population aged 25 to 64 years, by disability status, by age group, severity and sex, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Employment of Canadian population aged 25 to 64 years. The information is grouped by Age group (appearing as row headers), Persons without disabilities, Persons with disabilities, Milder, More severe, Women, Men and Both, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Age group Persons without disabilities Persons with disabilities
Milder More severe
Women Men Both Women Men Both Women Men Both
percent
25 to 34 years 77.3 86.0 81.8 81.9 73.5 78.6 59.2 45.7 54.2
35 to 44 years 81.7 89.5 85.6 77.1 82.1 79.3 52.7 52.6 52.7
45 to 54 years 82.6 87.4 84.9 75.4 83.3 79.2 41.5 41.3 41.4
55 to 64 years 62.6 71.9 67.2 50.4 64.9 57.9 27.7 32.7 29.8

Among those with milder or no disabilities, the employment rate is higher for men than women

When examining employment rates by gender, men with either milder disabilities or no disabilities had higher rates of employment than women within almost every age group (Table 7). This gender gap was most pronounced for those aged 55 to 64 years.

Among those with more severe disabilities, younger women had higher employment rates than men

Among those with more severe disabilities, younger women aged 25 to 34 years were more likely to have been employed than their male counterparts (59% versus 46%). Among those aged 35 to 64 years, however, men and women with more severe disabilities had roughly equal levels of employment.Note

Higher levels of education are associated with higher rates of employment

Educational attainment is also a factor in understanding differences in employment rates. Previous research has indicated that those with higher levels of education are more likely to be employed (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2017; Till et al., 2015). Similarly in the 2017 CSD, regardless of level of severity, employment rates for persons with disabilities were higher for those with post-secondary credentials than for those with high school graduation or less, showing a similar pattern as those without disabilities (Table 8).


Table 8
Employment of Canadian population aged 25 to 64 years, by educational attainment, disability status, severity and sex, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Employment of Canadian population aged 25 to 64 years. The information is grouped by Education (appearing as row headers), Persons without disabilities, Persons with disabilities, Milder, More severe, Women and Men, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Education Persons without disabilities Persons with disabilities
Milder More severe
Women Men Women Men Women Men
percent
High school or less 65.8 79.2 54.4 67.0 28.8 32.3
Trade/college/CEGEP 80.3 86.2 79.0 79.5 47.7 49.0
University 81.6 86.7 79.1 83.9 58.2 50.0

Examining those with more severe disabilities in particular, both women and men aged 25 to 64 years with a high school education or less had equally low levels of employment with just three in ten (29% and 32%, respectively) being employed. However, having a trade/college certificate or CEGEP increased the proportion working to nearly a half for both men (49%) and women (48%). Among men with more severe disabilities, there was no difference in employment rates for those with university credentials and those with college/trade credentials or CEGEP—half (49-50%) were employed regardless of the type of post-secondary education. However, among women with more severe disabilities, three in five (58%) with university credentials were employed, compared with half (48%) of those with college/trade credentials or CEGEP. Despite these differences, for both women and men, university graduates with more severe disabilities (58% and 50%) were still less likely to be employed than those without disabilities who had high school or less (66% and 79%).

Among the population of persons with disabilities, it is important to remember that the rate of disability increases with age (see Section 1), so many may not have had their disability while they were attending school. Thus, for some, disability could potentially impact their educational attainment, while for others, the link between disability and education may be more difficult to explain. There is likely a complex relationship between disability, education, age of disability onset, and employment for which further research is needed.

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For a quarter of those aged 25 to 64 years, the cause of their disability was work-related

Among Canadians aged 25 to 64 years with disabilities, over one-quarter reported that at least one of the underlying causes of their disability was work-related. This includes workplace conditions as well as accidents or injuries at work. Men were more likely than women to report a work-related cause of their disability (33% versus 22%).

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2.2 Full-Time/Part-Time Employment Among Adults Aged 25 to 64 Years

Prevalence of part-time work was higher among workers with more severe disabilities

Among those who were employed, more severe disabilities were associated with a greater likelihood of working part-time (defined as less than 30 hours per week; Table 9). For example, among those aged 25 to 64 years, men with more severe disabilities were three times more likely to have been working part-time (25%) than men without disabilities (8%); women with more severe disabilities were one and a half times more likely (29%) than women without disabilities (19%) to have been part-time workers.Note At the other end of the spectrum, roughly one in ten men (both with and without disabilities) worked more than 50 hours a week, as did one in twenty women.Note Further work would need to be done to better understand the nuances of these findings. Consistent with previous research (Till et al., 2015), modified or reduced hours/days were the most commonly required accommodation—one in five employed persons with disabilities had such a requirement. However, it is not clear the extent to which these requirements may explain patterns in full-time/part-time employment.


Table 9
Employment of Canadian population aged 25 to 64 years, by hours worked, disability status, severity and sex, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Employment of Canadian population aged 25 to 64 years. The information is grouped by Hours worked (appearing as row headers), Persons without disabilities, Persons with disabilities, Milder and More severe, calculated using number and percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Hours worked Persons without disabilities Persons with disabilities
Milder More severe
number percent number percent number percent
Women
Part-time 1,015,900 18.8 175,390 22.8 84,610 29.1
Full-time 4,374,820 81.2 595,500 77.2 205,840 70.9
More than 50 hours 249,960 4.6 35,110 4.6 13,810Note E: Use with caution 4.8Note E: Use with caution
Men
Part-time 457,000 7.5 80,510 10.8 54,340 25.1
Full-time 5,625,570 92.5 665,580 89.2 162,560 74.9
More than 50 hours 708,890 11.7 85,470 11.5 19,110Note E: Use with caution 8.8Note E: Use with caution

2.3 Potential to Work Among Non-employed Adults Aged 25 to 64 Years with Disabilities

Given the lower rate of employment for persons with disabilities noted above (Section 2.1), it is useful to provide an indication of the total size of the potential labour force with disabilities under the best-case scenario—an inclusive labour market without discrimination, with full accessibility and accommodation. Work potential is a way to examine how the labour market might change under these more inclusive conditions, by describing non-working individuals who might be likely to enter paid employment under this best-case scenario. It is not an attempt to measure one’s internal capacity, ability to work, or even likelihood of finding employment under current conditions. Improving our understanding of the population of potential workers could aid in better targeting for labour market programs.

Nearly 645,000 persons with disabilities had potential for paid employment in an inclusive labour market

Among those with disabilities aged 25 to 64 years who were not employed and not currently in school, two in five (39%) provided evidence of work potential (see Textbox 3 for more information)—this translates into 644,640 persons with disabilities who were not working, but had the potential to work.

While among non-working adults aged 25 to 64 years men had a higher rate of work potential than women (42% versus 37%), in terms of absolute numbers, women outnumbered their male counterparts among those with work potential (350,200 women compared with 294,440 men). This is due in part to the higher rate of disability among women as well as their lower rate of employment.

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Text box 3
Defining Work Potential

Following a similar approach as Till et al. (2015), anyone who was officially unemployed or who was not in the labour force but stated they would be looking for work in the next 12 months, was classified as having work potential. Those who stated they were “completely retired”, those who said their condition completely prevented them from working and that no workplace accommodation existed that would enable them to work, and those who were housebound, were classified as not being potential workers.

Students who did not fall into any of the above categories (unemployed, looking for work, housebound, etc.) were excluded from the analysis entirely. While many or even most of them may become future workers, their current work potential status is considered undetermined. Therefore, these students were not classified as either potential workers or non-potential workers.

Finally, anyone not falling into any of the categories above was classified as having work potential.Note

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2.4 Employment and Education for Youth with Disabilities, Aged 15 to 24 Years

Sections 2.1 to 2.3 explored labour market characteristics of working age adults with disabilities (aged 25 to 64 years). However, it is also critical to examine youth (aged 15 to 24 years), as those in this age group are typically engaged in a number of key transitions as they navigate from high school to either post-secondary education or the work force. Although many young people may find these transitions difficult, those with disabilities can face additional challenges (Crawford, 2012; Lindsay, 2010; Pandey and Agarwal, 2013). This section focuses on youth who are neither in school nor employed, as those in this group may be experiencing particular difficulties in making these transitions.

As discussed in Section 1 on demographics, youth with disabilities had a somewhat different profile than working age adults and seniors. Notably, the most prevalent types of disabilities among youth were mental health-related and learning disabilities. In addition, these disability types also frequently co-occurred—nearly a quarter (25%) of all youth with disabilities had both mental health-related and learning disabilities in combination. In fact, over three-quarters (77%) of all youth with disabilities had a mental health-related disability and/or a learning disability. This is important to note as it may have implications for the types of challenges faced by youth with disabilities, and the types of accommodations they need to transition successfully into post-secondary education or employment.

One in three youth with more severe disabilities are neither in school nor employed

Severity of disability had a strong relationship with school enrolment and employment among youth. Both men and women aged 15 to 24 years with more severe disabilities were about twice as likely as those with milder disabilities to be neither in school nor employed (Table 10).


Table 10
Canadian population aged 15 to 24 years with a disability, by school enrolment and employment status, severity and sex, 2017
Table summary
This table displays the results of Canadian population aged 15 to 24 years with a disability. The information is grouped by School enrollment and employment (appearing as row headers), Person with disabilities, Milder, More severe, Women and Men, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
School enrollment and employment Person with disabilities
Milder More severe
Women Men Women Men
percent
In school, employed 27.4 19.1 17.9 8.4Note E: Use with caution
In school, not employed 24.9 31.5 33.7 40.5
Not in school, employed 32.8 33.5 20.1 17.5
Not in school, not employed 14.9 15.9 28.2 33.6
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0

While the prevalence of mental health-related and/or learning disabilities was high among youth (77%), it was even higher among those who were neither in school nor employed. Nearly nine in ten (87%) of those who were neither in school nor employed had a mental health-related disability, a learning disability, or both (three in ten had both).

Young women and men were just as likely to be neither in school nor employed. However, for those in this age group who were in school, women were more likely than men to also be employed during their school enrolment. Employment experience during the course of education (e.g., internships, work-study programs, and apprenticeships) can increase the likelihood of successful school-to-work transitions (Till et al., 2015). For those with more severe disabilities aged 15 to 24 years who were in school, young women were twice as likely as their male counterparts to have also been employed (35% versus 17%). Among youth with milder disabilities who were in school, half (52%) of the women were also employed, compared to 38% of young men.

Over 83,000 youth with disabilities neither in school nor employed had potential to work

Youth who are neither in school nor employed may be of concern. For some in this situation, this could indicate disabilities that may make entry into the labour force highly unlikely under any circumstances. However, for others, there may be greater potential to transition into employment with proper accommodations and supports. Among the 108,790 youth who were neither in school nor employed, 83,440 could be identified as potential workers. It is noteworthy that 84% of them had a mental health-related disability, a learning disability, or both. Additionally, women outnumbered men among those with work potential (45,650 versus 37,790).

2.5 Employment Among Younger Seniors with Disabilities Aged 65 to 69 Years

Many younger seniors with disabilities continue to work

As presented above, among working age adults (aged 25 to 64 years), employment rates were lower among the older age groups compared to the younger age groups. However, when considering seniors, many individuals with disabilities were continuing to work beyond the typical age of retirement. Over a third (34%) of men with milder disabilities aged 65 to 69 years were employed—this was the same as among men without disabilities. In comparison, one in five men (21%E) with more severe disabilities aged 65 to 69 years were employed. For women, the picture was similar. Women without disabilities aged 65 to 69 years were more likely than those of their age with milder or more severe disabilities to have been employed (22% versus 16%E versus 10%E). In all, nearly 117,900 persons with disabilities aged 65 to 69 years continued to work.

Section 3: Income

Article 28 (Adequate Standard of Living and Social Protection) of the UNCRPD calls for an adequate standard of living for persons with disabilities along with access to “poverty reduction programmes” aimed at those with disabilities—these provisions are premised on the heightened risk of poverty that often accompanies disability around the world (United Nations, 2012). In the document released on August 21, 2018, entitled Opportunity for All: Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy (Government of Canada, 2018)Note , the Government of Canada set out targets and measures for reducing poverty among numerous at-risk groups including persons with disabilities, recognizing them as a group at greater risk of poverty.

But what are the realities regarding income for persons with disabilities overall, and how does employment factor into the picture? Using Canada’s new Official Poverty Line, how do persons with disabilities fare? This section examines these questions with regard to key characteristics such as severity, gender, age, and living arrangements. Finally, the unique situation of those with disabilities who were unable to afford required aids, devices, and medication is examined within the context of poverty—does living above the poverty line reduce or eliminate the risk of having unmet disability-related needs due to cost?

3.1 Median Personal IncomeNote

This section begins with an examination of median personal income from all sources (earnings as well as income from all other sources reflecting the impact of various support programs), to provide some key baseline data for future reference on incomes of persons with disabilities.

Personal income is lowest among those with more severe disabilities

Among working age adults, aged 25 to 64 years, personal income was strongly related to the severity of disability . Those with no disabilities had a higher median personal after-tax income ($38,980) than those with milder disabilities ($34,330) and those with more severe disabilities ($19,160). In fact, the income of those with more severe disabilities was half that of those with no disabilities.

In contrast, among seniors, differences in median income found by disability status and severity were smaller—with incomes ranging from $27,880 for seniors with no disabilities to $22,230 for those with more severe disabilities. Consistent with the typical shift from employment income to retirement income, seniors without disabilities had lower levels of income than those of working age; and those with milder disabilities followed the same pattern. However, the opposite was true for those with more severe disabilities, among whom the median income of seniors was greater than that of their working age counterparts ($22,230 versus $19,160). Further and more detailed analysis that is beyond the scope of this article would be required to better understand these differences.Note

Women have lower levels of income than men

The gender gap in income in the general population has been well-documented over the years (Drolet, 2011; Fox and Moyser, 2018; Morissette, Picot, and Lu, 2013); and, consistent with this, working age women without disabilities and those with milder disabilities had a median income that was about three-quarters that of their male counterparts (Table 11). Among those with more severe disabilities, the gender gap in income was smaller, with women’s income being about 90% of men’s ($17,520 versus $20,230). However, it is important to note that for both women and men with more severe disabilities, income levels were roughly half that of women and men without disabilities.


Table 11
Median after-tax personal income of Canadian population aged 25 years and over, by disability status, severity, age group and sex, 2015 
Table summary
This table displays the results of Median after-tax personal income of Canadian population aged 25 years and over. The information is grouped by Disability status (appearing as row headers), Aged 25 to 64 years, Aged 65 years and over, Women and Men, calculated using dollars units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Disability status Aged 25 to 64 years Aged 65 years and over
Women Men Women Men
dollars
Persons without disabilities 34,460 44,410 23,200 34,340
Persons with disabilities
Milder 30,080 39,710 22,980 31,550
More severe 17,520 20,230 19,520 27,560

Among seniors aged 65 years and over, women had a median income that was about two-thirds that of their male counterparts regardless of the presence of disabilities or severity. As noted above, among those with more severe disabilities only, seniors had higher levels of median income than their working age counterparts. While this was true for both men and women with more severe disabilities, the difference between seniors and working-age adults was greater for men ($27,560 versus $20,230) than it was for women ($19,520 versus $17,520).Note

Employed persons with disabilities still have incomes that fall short of those without disabilities

The initial picture of median income above sheds light on the realities of life for those with disabilities, comparing key groups based on age, gender, and severity of disability. However, it is often stated that the best defence against poverty is having a job (Azevedo et al., 2013; International Labour Office, 2003). As shown in Section 2 on employment, those with disabilities and, particularly, those with more severe disabilities were less likely than those without disabilities to have been employed. For those who are employed, then, does employment close the income gap between those with and without disabilities?

Adults aged 25 to 64 years who were employed for some or all of 2015 had a median income about three times the amount of their counterparts who were not employed (Table 12). This overall pattern was consistent regardless of disability, severity, and gender. However, employed persons with milder disabilities still had lower median incomes than those without disabilities, and employed persons with more severe disabilities had median incomes further below those with milder disabilities. This demonstrates that, while employment makes a substantial difference in income for persons with disabilities, their income still falls short of those without disabilities.


Table 12
Median after-tax personal income of Canadian population aged 25 to 64 years, by disability status, severity and employment status, 2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Median after-tax personal income of Canadian population aged 25 to 64 years. The information is grouped by Disability status (appearing as row headers), Not employed, Employed and Employed full-year, full-time, calculated using dollars units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Disability status Not employed Employed Employed full-year, full-time
dollars
Persons without disabilities 11,520 42,320 49,380
Persons with disabilities
Milder 12,540 39,550 47,290
More severe 12,520 31,820 41,640

Going one step further, even when limiting the analysis to only those who were employed full-time for at least 49 weeks in 2015 (full-year, full-time), median income for all groups was higher than for those with “any” employment. However, there remained an income gap between persons without disabilities, with milder disabilities, and with more severe disabilities which resulted in full-year/full-time workers with more severe disabilities having an income that was 84% of workers with no disabilities. This suggests that disability and severity of disability may also be associated with differences in wage rates.Note

3.2 Persons with Disabilities Living in Poverty

Persons with disabilities are identified as one of the groups at greater risk of living in poverty under Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. Canada’s new official measure of poverty is calculated at the household level, adjusted for the size of the household and a number of other factors (see Textbox 4). It provides a convenient means of comparison across groups to assess the extent of poverty in such groups.

Start of text box

Text box 4
Canada’s Official Poverty Line

As announced in August 2018, Employment and Social Development Canada has adopted the Market Basket Measure (MBM) as Canada’s official measure of poverty. The measure is based on the cost of a specific set (“basket”) of goods and services representing a modest, basic standard of living (e.g., food, clothing, shelter) for a given region and family size.Note The disposable income of a family is then compared against this threshold to determine whether the family is “at or above” versus “below”. Individuals in a family living below the threshold are considered to have low income or be living in poverty.Note

End of text box

Persons with more severe disabilities are more likely to be living in poverty

Among the non-senior population, the risk of living in poverty increased by severity of disability (Table 13). For youth aged 15 to 24 years, a portion of whom may still be living in the family home, those with no disabilities (17%) were less likely to be living below Canada’s official poverty line than those with milder (23%) or more severe (28%) disabilities.Note Working age adults showed a similar pattern, from 10% of those without disabilities living in poverty, compared to 14% for those with milder disabilities and 28% for those with more severe disabilities. As such, the rate of low income for working age adults with more severe disabilities was double that of working age adults with milder disabilities and nearly triple that for those with no disability.


Table 13
Canadian population, aged 15 years and over, living below Canada’s Official Poverty Line, by age group, disability status and severity, 2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Canadian population. The information is grouped by Age group (appearing as row headers), Persons without disabilities, Persons with disabilities, Milder and More severe, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Age group Persons without disabilities Persons with disabilities
Milder More severe
percent
15 to 24 years 16.7 22.5 27.6
25 to 64 years 10.0 14.2 28.3
65 years and over 6.0 7.3 10.4

Seniors are less likely to be living in poverty

Seniors were less likely than non-seniors to have been living below Canada’s official poverty line regardless of disability or severity. Seniors with no disabilities or milder disabilities had poverty rates of about 6% to 7%, while seniors with more severe disabilities had somewhat higher rates at 10%. Thus, seniors with more severe disabilities were still more likely to be living in poverty than seniors with milder or no disabilities, but were only about a third as likely as working age adults with more severe disabilities.

More women than men with disabilities were living in poverty

Regardless of severity or age, there were no statistically significant differences between men and women in their likelihood of living in poverty. However, among those with disabilities aged 15 years and over who were living below Canada’s official poverty line, women outnumbered men (622,300 versus 425,030).

Lone parents and those living alone are at greater risk of living in poverty

Household living arrangements are a way of understanding key family structures—and, in particular, the respondent’s place within that structure—for people living within the same household. In general, certain family structures, such as lone parent households and those living alone, have higher risks of living below Canada’s official poverty line (Government of Canada, 2018). As such, the discussion below focuses on the risk of poverty among individuals living in different household and family structures, and whether the addition of a disability increases this risk further.

Across various types of household living arrangements for those aged 15 to 64 yearsNote , there were key differences in the risk of living below Canada’s official poverty line, and these differences were related to disability and severity as well (Table 14). Of special note, “lone parents” refers to those who are not part of a couple but who have children (of any age, including adult children) living with them, whereas “living with parent(s)/guardian(s)” refers to those living in the home with one or more parents or guardians.


Table 14
Canadian population aged 15 to 64 years below Canada’s Official Poverty Line, by selectedTable 14 Note 1 household living arrangements, disability status and severity, 2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Canadian population aged 15 to 64 years below Canada’s Official Poverty Line. The information is grouped by Position in household (appearing as row headers), Persons without disabilities, Persons with disabilities, Milder and More severe, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Position in household Persons without disabilities Persons with disabilities
Milder More severe
percent
Part of couple, no children 6.2 5.4 14.3
Part of couple, with children  7.0 6.5 14.9
Living with parent(s)/guardian(s) 8.1 11.5 13.6
Lone parent with children 24.2 33.5 40.7
Living alone 21.5 32.7 61.4

The lowest rates of low income were found among those individuals who were part of a couple in the household (with or without children) or those who were living with parent(s) or guardian(s) as an adult child in the household. However, even within these family structures, those with more severe disabilities were about twice as likely to be living in poverty as their counterparts with no disabilities.

Lone parents or those living alone were at the greatest risk of living in poverty. Among those without disabilities, the poverty rate among lone parents was four times higher than that of those in two-parent households with children (24% versus 6%). However, the impact of lone parenthood was much greater for those with disabilities, and this was further compounded by severity—41% of lone parents with more severe disabilities were living below the poverty line compared with 24% of lone parents without disabilities.Note It is important to note that, regardless of disability or severity, eight in ten lone parents were women, indicating that this high risk of poverty disproportionately affected women.

Among those with no disabilities or milder disabilities, the risk of poverty for those living alone was similar to that of lone parents. However, those with more severe disabilities aged 15 to 64 years who were living alone had the highest rate of poverty of any group examined, with six in ten living below Canada’s official poverty line.Note

3.3 Unmet Needs for Disability Supports Due to Cost

Cost is the primary reason behind unmet needs for disability aids, devices, and medication

The CSD asks a number of questions regarding needs for various supports, including personal aids and devices (e.g., canes, walkers, specialized software, or architectural features in the home such as widened doorways and ramps) as well as prescription medication.Note Among persons with disabilities aged 15 years and over, 1.5 million had an unmet need for an aid or device. Of these, 1 million indicated that cost was the reason for their unmet need. This represented 69% of those with unmet needs, or 17% of all persons with disabilities.

Similarly, 836,690 (representing 13% of all persons with disabilities aged 15 years and over) had unmet needs for prescription medication due to cost.Note Unmet needs could involve rationing medication by taking less than required and/or not taking required medication at all due to cost.

In all, over a quarter (26%) of persons with disabilities had an unmet need due to cost in at least one of these areas—this represented over 1.6 million adults who could not afford a required aid, device, or prescription medication.

Age and severity impact the ability to afford aids and medication

Of the 4.3 million persons with disabilities aged 15 to 64 years, three in ten (29%) had an unmet need for an aid, device, and/or prescription medication due to cost, compared to two in ten (21%) of the nearly 2 million seniors with disabilities (Table 15). Similarly, unmet needs due to cost were more common among those with more severe disabilities: four in ten (37%) of those with more severe disabilities aged 15 years and over had unmet needs due to cost, compared with two in ten (18%) of those with milder disabilities.


Table 15
Canadian population aged 15 years and over with a disability and unmet needs due to cost, by age group and severity, 2017   
Table summary
This table displays the results of Canadian population aged 15 years and over with a disability and unmet needs due to cost. The information is grouped by Age group (appearing as row headers), Unmet needs due to cost, calculated using number and percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Age group Unmet needs due to cost
number percent
15 to 64 years 1,221,370 28.6
65 years and over 405,640 20.6
Severity of disability
Milder 625,790 17.5
More severe 1,001,230 37.4

A quarter of those living above the poverty line still cannot afford all required aids and medication

Four in ten (38%) persons with disabilities aged 15 years and over who were living below Canada’s official poverty line reported an unmet need due to cost for an aid, device, and/or prescription medication.  This was particularly an issue for women living in poverty, among whom four in ten (41%) had unmet needs due to cost, compared to one-third (33%) of men.

However, while unmet needs due to cost were lower for those living above the poverty line, one-quarter (24%) still reported unmet needs due to cost. For those living above the poverty line, men and women were equally likely to have had such an unmet need due to cost (a quarter for both).

Thus the data has shown that even for many individuals with disabilities who are above the poverty threshold, cost is still a barrier to getting all the supports they need.

Section 4: Conclusion

This article provides a broad picture of some key insights from the 2017 CSD regarding the demographics, employment patterns, and income of persons with disabilities, with key comparisons to persons without disabilities. Among these insights, several themes emerge in a number of important areas.

Severity is an important lens when examining outcomes of persons with disabilities. Those with more severe disabilities are almost always distinct from those without disabilities in terms of key outcomes—lower rates of employment even when education is held constant, lower income even when employed full-year and full-time, and greater likelihood of living in poverty regardless of age. In some domains, those with milder disabilities have employment and income patterns that are perhaps more similar to those without disabilities than those with more severe disabilities (poverty rates among seniors for example)—yet in other domains (employment rates for example), they too are quite distinct from those without disabilities. In terms of disability-specific domains, severity continues to be a useful lens for understanding outcomes; for example, adults with more severe disabilities are more likely to have unmet needs due to cost for aids, devices, and prescription medication. However, these differences between those with milder and more severe disabilities do not necessarily mean that those with milder disabilities do not face challenges due to their disability. There are clear differences between those without disabilities and those with milder disabilities in terms of many key outcomes.

Youth with disabilities have a somewhat different profile compared to working age adults and seniors with disabilities. In particular, mental health-related and learning disabilities are the most prevalent types of disabilities among youth. While youth with disabilities were more likely than those without disabilities to be neither in school nor employed, youth with mental health-related and/or learning disabilities were over-represented in this group. Taking this into account is important when supporting youth with disabilities in making the transition into post-secondary education or the labour market since specific accommodations may be required for youth with these types of disabilities.

Among the domains considered here, seniors with disabilities often fare somewhat better compared to their working age counterparts; for example, seniors with disabilities are less likely to be living in poverty and less likely to have unmet needs for aids, devices, and prescription medication due to cost. At the same time, however, seniors with disabilities, and those with more severe disabilities in particular, still face a higher risk of living in poverty than seniors without disabilities. For the situation of seniors, this article does not delve into a number of critical issues that may impact outcomes for seniors with disabilities. For example, there are likely differences between individuals who age into a disability in their senior years—for which their disability did not impact their earnings potential during working age—and those who develop a disability earlier in life and, therefore, might face challenges in the labour market throughout their working years. As well, some other key issues among seniors are not captured within the CSD—there is no information regarding assets that may be critical to seniors in terms of supplementing income to cover expenses, and those in long-term care facilities and retirement homes are not included in the sample. Finally, it is important to remember that there are government programs, both federal and provincial, specifically targeted toward seniors, and further work would need to be done to better understand how these programs might be affecting these findings.

There are a number of key gender stories that run throughout the findings presented here. Women not only have a higher rate of disability than men, but also outnumber men among those with disabilities. Similarly, women outnumber men among those who are without work but have work potential, among lone parents, among those living alone, and among those living in poverty in general. As well, women tend to have lower rates of employment overall and lower levels of income.

Finally, a number of groups at high risk of living in poverty have been identified in Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy—for example, persons with disabilities, those living alone, and those living as lone parents. The findings of this article suggest that key interactions among these groups may create an even greater risk of living in poverty. Indeed, the poverty rates among those living alone and lone parents with disabilities are quite high compared to the rates among these same groups without disabilities. Further work needs to be done to better understand the factors involved with this. In particular, additional research focussing on other at-risk groups is necessary to examine these intersectionalities in more detail than is possible in this first release.

References

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Annex A: Work Potential

Till et al. (2015) developed an indicator of “work potential” using the 2012 CSD. The value of the approach resides in its ability to provide richer analysis of the employment landscape for persons with disabilities, who tend to be poorly served by the usual metrics of employed/unemployed/not in the labour force (see Till et al. (2015) for more on the development of the concept).

Work potential is used to describe persons with disabilities not currently working who might be likely to enter paid employment, under the best-case scenario—an inclusive labour market without discrimination, with full accessibility and accommodation. It is not an attempt to measure one’s internal capacity, ability to work, or even likelihood of finding employment under current conditions. It is rather a way to examine how the labour market might change under more inclusive conditions.

Specifically, the work potential variable was calculated as follows: anyone who was officially unemployed or who was not in the labour force but stated they would be looking for work in the next 12 months, was classified as having work potential. Those who stated they were “completely retired”, those who said their condition completely prevented them from working and that no workplace accommodation existed that would enable them to work, and those who were housebound, were classified as not being potential workers.

After these groups were classified, any students who did not fall into any of the above categories were then excluded from this analysis—while many or even most of them may become future workers, they could not be categorized as currently having work potential. Therefore, these students were separated out of the analysis and were not classified as either potential workers or not potential workers. Among those aged 25 to 64 years, however, there were very few students who were not already employed or who were not planning on looking for work in the following 12 months. Finally, anyone not falling into any of the categories above was classified as having work potential.

This indicator largely aligns with Till et al. (2015). There are, however, several key differences worthy of mention. First, while Till et al. considered students not in the labour force as having work potential, we have attempted to further refine the conceptualization of work potential in a way that focuses on individuals who would be likely to work in the near future. Full-time students currently not in the workforce and not planning to be in the next year were, therefore, not considered as either having or not having work potential—they are treated as missing cases.

Second, people who indicated being housebound were classified as not likely to work. This variable is new for the 2017 CSD, and hence was not included in Till et al. Third, Till et al. classified persons who had never worked as not having work potential. This decision was made in part because people in this group tended to be older—near retirement age—and had more severe disabilities. We found this not to be the case in the 2017 data, where this small group of people tended to be younger with a fairly even distribution across levels of severity. Hence we chose to omit this criterion for assigning this group as not being potential workers.

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