4.4 million too many to be ignored

Posted on December 29, 2007 in Equality Debates, Inclusion Debates

TheStar.com – living – 4.4 million too many to be ignored
December 29, 2007
Helen Henderson

One of the most significant signposts for 2008 got little notice when it appeared this month. But Statistics Canada’s latest national survey on the growing number of adults and children with disabilities should send a clear message to politicians in what could be an election year.

Some 4.4 million Canadians, one out of every seven, reported having a disability in 2006, when the study was done. That’s up 21 per cent in five years. Many of them vote. Those who don’t have family and friends who do.

Some of the increase may be attributed to the fact that people are less inhibited about reporting their status, the agency said. The other factor is, of course, the rising number of those on the plus side of 50.

Either way, the numbers cannot be ignored. And they are merely the first in a series of revealing figures expected over the next 12 months from StatsCan’s Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS).

Watch for statistics on employment barriers, the care received by people with disabilities and the impact on a family of having a child who doesn’t move, communicate or process information in concert with the majority.

In the latest survey, developmental delays and chronic health conditions – most often asthma, severe allergies, attention deficit disorder or an autism spectrum disorder – were the most common conditions among children aged 4 and under reporting one or more disabilities, the agency said.

Of children aged 5 to 14 reporting disabilities, almost 70 per cent had chronic health conditions.

For Canadians aged 15 to 64, pain was the most common form of disability, followed closely by mobility and agility limitations. For those aged 65 and over, mobility limitations were the most common.

Learning disabilities were among the biggest factors for both children and adults, StatsCan said.

You can find all the numbers from the 2006 PALS survey in infinite detail on Statistics Canada’s website, statcan.ca/Daily/English/071203/d071203a.htm. The task for the year ahead is to make sure they get the attention they deserve from policy makers at every level.

We shouldn’t need numbers to make the case. Basic respect for each other as people should be enough to bring about the changes necessary to let everyone participate as full members of communities.

Yet, from the vast faceless bureaucracy to individual encounters, mainstream numbers drive decisions. It’s all about priorities, as Marian Brown noted in a letter to the Star.

Brown’s 14-year-old son, Curtis, has muscular dystrophy and uses a manual wheelchair. During the pre-Christmas snowstorm, her husband noticed two city workers who had momentarily stopped clearing the sidewalks with their mini-tractors.

He explained that Curtis uses a wheelchair and needs curb cuts to get across streets. He asked if the snow at the curb cut could be cleared. It wasn’t done. When Brown complained to the city, she was told clearing sidewalk ramps is not a priority.

“Why doesn’t the City have their workers clear the sidewalk ramps and the sidewalks at the same time, thereby saving time and money, since they won’t have to come back the next day?” Brown asks.

Why indeed? The fact that most curb cuts across the city were not cleared left many wheelchair users, including myself, stranded.


This month’s StatsCan numbers about the growing numbers of people with disabilities should send a message to policy makers. Let’s hope they’re listening in the year ahead.

Email life@thestar.ca. Read Helen

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