Canadians suffering from disability denial, survey finds

A new survey shows that Canadians agree accessibly for persons with disabilities is a human right.
A new survey shows that Canadians agree accessibly for persons with disabilities is a human right. Global News

Many Canadians far underestimate the number of people around us living with a disability, according to new survey results.

A majority of respondents (32 per cent) said one in 25 Canadians has a disability. In reality, the number is about one in seven.

Dec. 3 is the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities. To mark the day, the Rick Hansen Foundation and the Angus Reid Institute conducted a poll to get an idea of Canadians’ awareness of accessibility and disability in their country.

Some key findings of the survey:

  • 90 per cent agree that accessibility for people with disabilities is a human right, not a privilege;
  • 87 per cent of respondents agree Canada should be a global leader when it comes to accessibility initiatives;
  • 50 per cent of people agree it’s “understandable” for employees to see it as “risky” to hire people with disabilities.
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It seems some people have a narrow interpretation of what defines a disability.

“Disability is not just people who are visibly in a wheelchair, or on a scooter,” said Rick Hansen, who for decades has been a crusader for inclusion for people with disabilities. “They’re people who have various mobility challenges… there’s a whole range of sensory issues — hearing and sight — and of course cognitive challenges.”

“Some of these thing we don’t see… even if we’re trying to look for them.”

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He said more work needs to be done to get out the message that “it’s OK to have a disability” and promote the fact that those with disabilities live regular, productive lives.

“Research suggest there is a stigma around disability, and even the word ‘disability’,” said Hansen, adding that the word still suggests a state of limitation.

The survey results showed a reluctance by respondents to admit their own disabilities. While one-in-four agreed that they live with some sort of physical disability, only 9 per cent of respondents said they consider themselves to be disabled.

“There’s a gap there,” said Hansen. “It’s just a statement of fact. Let’s normalize it.”

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Sometimes, that stigma and discrimination can turn nasty: every now and then stories pop up of notes left on a person’s vehicle who doesn’t appear — at least to the often-anonymous note-writer — to need or deserve to park in a designated accessible parking spot. Earlier this year an Ohio woman got called a “crybaby one leg” by a neighbour after she was given a designated parking spot.

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Hansen said the rates of those with disabilities is bound to rise as baby boomers age.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Hansen. “Canadians are largely underestimating the prevalence of disability and that’s a call to action for us to do more work.”

Hansen is encouraged by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pledge to break down the social and economic barriers facing Canadians with disabilities.

“Too often, persons with disabilities are confronted with stigma, discrimination and, ultimately, denied the most basic human rights. We will work to ensure the full diversity of Canadians is reflected in their government and in its decisions,” Trudeau said in a statement Thursday.

“We have a duty to help eliminate the systemic barriers that persist in our society, and we will work with the provinces, territories and others to make sure that all Canadians have equality of opportunity.”

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The online poll of 1,527 Canadians was conducted between Oct. 20 and 25 and and is accurate to within 2.5 percentage points 19 times out of 20.