Canadians with disabilities: A demographic, employment and income profile, 2017
An estimated one in five Canadians (or 6.2 million) aged 15 years and over had one or more disabilities that limited them in their daily activities, according to new findings from the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD).
For many of these Canadians, challenges and obstacles in their day-to-day lives may limit their full participation in society. Understanding the challenges faced by persons with disabilities in their personal, employment, or economic situations helps inform government policy.
The CSD is the main source of data on disabilities for those aged 15 years and over. For the 2017 survey, new questions were designed to ensure better overall coverage of persons with disabilities, especially for persons with disability types that are less visible, such as mental health-related and cognitive disabilities.
More than 1 in 10 youth in Canada have one or more disabilities
The prevalence of disabilities among Canadians tends to increase with age. However, more than 540,000 youths aged 15 to 24 years (13%) had one or more disabilities. This compared with 20% or 3.7 million of working age adults (25 to 64 years), and 38% or 2 million of seniors aged 65 and over. Women (24%) were more likely to have a disability than men (20%) and this was the case across all age groups.
More than 4 in 10 Canadians with disabilities have a severe or very severe disability
Severity is a major factor in looking at the lives of persons with disabilities. Those with more severe disabilities often have lower rates of employment, lower income even when employed full-year and full-time, and a greater likelihood of living in poverty regardless of age.
In 2017, 57% of Canadians with disabilities had a “milder” disability (classified as having a mild or moderate disability) and 43% had a “more severe” disability (classified as having a severe or very severe disability). In all cases, the disability was severe enough to limit them to some extent in their daily activities.
Mental health-related and learning disabilities are the most common types of disabilities among youth
The prevalence of disabilities varies at different stages of life. Common to all age groups, however, was the prominence of pain-related disabilities—which were the most prevalent disability type among working age adults and seniors, and the third most prevalent disability among youth.
The most common disability types among seniors were pain, mobility, and flexibility—each affecting about one-quarter of all seniors, often in combination. Among working age adults, 14% had a pain-related disability, and roughly half that percentage had a disability related to mental health, flexibility or mobility (and often in combination).
Mental health-related disabilities (7%) ranked fourth in prevalence among disability types for persons aged 15 years and over, and represented just over 2 million Canadians. In fact, among youth, mental health-related (8%) was the most common type of disability, followed by learning (6%), and pain-related disabilities (4%).
Most Canadians with a disability had more than one type of disability. Of the 6.2 million Canadians with disabilities aged 15 years and over, 29% had one type of disability; 38% had two or three disabilities; and 33% had four or more.
About one-third of youth with more severe disabilities are neither in school nor employed
Youth with disabilities are at a higher risk of not being in school or employed, and this increased with the severity of the disability. Understanding the type of disability and its severity is important, then, for supporting youth in making the transition into post-secondary education or the labour market.
About 15% of youth with milder disabilities were neither in school nor employed, compared with about 31% of youth with more severe disabilities.
Among youth with disabilities who were neither in school nor employed, 87% had a mental health-related disability, a learning disability, or both. Since those with mental health-related and/or learning disabilities accounted for 77% of youth with disabilities, this suggests they are disproportionately affected when it comes to being neither in school nor employed.
Persons with very severe disabilities are two-and a-half times less likely to be employed than those with mild disabilities
In 2017, persons with disabilities faced lower employment rates, particularly for Canadians with very severe disabilities, and those with lower levels of education.
About 59% of working-age adults with disabilities were employed compared with around 80% of those without disabilities. However, as severity of disability increased, the percentage of those employed fell from 76% among those with mild disabilities to 31% among those with very severe disabilities.
The presence of a disability did not preclude older adults (55 to 64 years) from working. The more severe the disability, however, the less likely they were to be employed. In fact, the percentage of employed older adults was lowest for those with more severe disabilities (30%), while it was 58% for those with milder disabilities and 67% for people in the same age bracket without a disability.
Almost one-third of working age adults with more severe disabilities are living in poverty
Overall, persons with disabilities had lower personal income compared to those without disabilities and it varied depending on sex, severity of disability, and household living arrangements.
For example, women aged 25 to 64 years with milder disabilities had median after-tax personal income that was 24% less than their male counterparts and 13% less than women without disabilities.
Among working age adults, personal income was strongly related to the severity of disability. Those with no disabilities had a higher median after-tax personal income ($39,000) than those with milder disabilities ($34,300) and those with more severe disabilities ($19,200).
In addition, among working age adults, 28% of those with more severe disabilities were living below Canada’s official poverty line (based on the Market Basket Measure), compared with 14% of those with milder disabilities and 10% of those without disabilities.
The highest rates of poverty (for those aged 15 to 64 years) were among those with more severe disabilities who were living alone or were lone parents. For those living alone, 6 in 10 were below the poverty line, as were 4 in 10 of lone parents. Regardless of disability, 8 in 10 lone parents were women.