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International Day of Persons with Disabilities: Removing visible and invisible barriers

December 1, 2023, 2:20 p.m. (EST)

December 3 is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This day aims to increase awareness and promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in every aspect of life.

New findings from the 2022 Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD) show that 27% of Canadians aged 15 years and older, or 8.0 million people, have one or more disabilities that limited them in their daily activities.

All people in Canada have the right to take part fully in society. By working to remove barriers and break down obstacles—seen or unseen—that can hinder accessibility, inclusivity, and progress, we open our doors to a more creative, diverse, and welcoming environment.   

A barrier is anything that prevents persons with disabilities from fully and equally participating in Canadian society. Some barriers are very visible, like a building without an access ramp. Other barriers are less visible, like instructions written in complicated language or jargon.

Advancing accessibility is about creating more barrier-free communities, workplaces and services, to build a country where all people, regardless of disability, are included in society and can take full advantage of programs and services.

In 2022, the rate of disability in Canada has increased by 5 percentage points since 2017, when 22% of Canadians aged 15 years and older, or 6.2 million people, had one or more disabilities. This increase can be partially attributed to the aging population and a large increase in mental health-related disabilities among working-age youth and adults.

Among persons with a disability, the most common type in 2022, as it was in 2017, was pain-related disability (62%).

Flexibility (40%), mobility (39%) and mental health-related (39%) disabilities were the next most prevalent types. The prevalence of mental health-related, seeing, learning, memory, and developmental disabilities increased from 2017 to 2022.

The Accessible Canada Act: How are we striving towards a barrier-free Canada?

The Accessible Canada Act (ACA) came into force in 2019. The overarching goal of the ACA is to realize a barrier-free Canada by 2040. The legislation benefits all Canadians—especially persons with disabilities—through the proactive identification, removal, and prevention of barriers to accessibility in seven priority areas:

  • employment
  • the built environment
  • information and communication technologies (ICT)
  • communication other than ICT
  • the design and delivery of programs and services
  • the procurement of goods, services and facilities
  • transportation.

A key principle of the ACA is “nothing without us,” which means that persons with disabilities should be consulted when developing laws, policies and programs that affect them. In keeping with this principle, the Government of Canada works with persons with disabilities and organizations who advocate on their behalf to better understand the full diversity of the community it serves.

Removing barriers for people with disabilities in Canada

The 2022 CSD collected information on barriers to accessibility in support of the ACA.

In 2022, 72% of persons with disabilities reported that they experienced one or more of the 27 types of barriers to accessibility because of their condition at least sometimes in the past year.

Persons with more severe disabilities experienced more barriers to accessibility. These individuals reported that they experienced an average of nine of the included types of barriers at least sometimes in the past year.

By comparison, persons with milder disabilities reported that they experienced an average of six of the included types of barriers at least sometimes in the past year.

Barriers related to features of interior or exterior public spaces, such as entrances or exits and sidewalks, were the most commonly experienced (56%), followed by barriers related to communication (48%), barriers related to behaviours, misconceptions or assumptions (37%), and barriers related to online activities (17%).

See the 2022 CSD questionnaire for more information on the barriers to accessibility included in the survey.

The Accessible Canada Regulations made under the ACA provide further information about how we can work together to make Canada barrier-free by January 1, 2040.

A more accessible Canada

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities is important for increasing awareness of diverse abilities and promoting inclusion for all people in Canada with disabilities. Removing and preventing visible and invisible barriers to accessibility can make positive, often life-changing, differences for people with disabilities.

Creating inclusive and accessible environments for all means working together to ensure that the perspectives of persons with disabilities are considered and strategies are implemented to protect and empower all Canadians.

To find more information on accessibility in Canada, visit Statistics Canada’s Accessibility Statistics hub.

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