The Most Common Types of Disabling Conditions and How to Deal with Them

by | Nov 10, 2022 | Disability Law

The latest numbers from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that over 1 billion people around the world live with a disabling condition. The current world population is approximately 7.8 billion and is expected to reach 8 million this month. In other words, more than 1 person out of every 8 in the world is currently living with a disability. The WHO expects that number to continue to rise dramatically as it has in recent years and that almost everyone on this planet will experience either a temporary or permanent disability.

The number of Canadians who live with disabling conditions is almost double the world average at approximately 22%, or over 1 out of every 5. Those statistics come from data collected in 2017 as part of the Government of Canada’s 5-year recurring Reports on Disability and Accessibility in Canada [formerly the Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD)].

Data collection for the next Report began on June 3, 2022, ends on November 30, 2022, and is scheduled for release in December of 2023. Considering the world’s population has seen a steep rise in the number of people living with a disabling condition and that the last Government of Canada Report was done before the pandemic, it’s not unlikely that the numbers will show an increased percentage of Canadians who are now living with a disabling condition over the last five years.

So what is a disabling condition, which are the most prevalent in Canada, and how should we deal with them? The answers and other insights below.

Disclaimer: The information in this guide and everywhere else on this website is for general information only and is not intended to provide legal advice of any kind. No lawyer-client relationship is created by accessing or otherwise using Ertl Lawyers’ website or by communicating with a lawyer or staff member. If you need legal advice, contact a leading Toronto disability lawyer at Ertl Lawyers. We’re more than happy to speak with you.

What is the Definition of a Disabling Condition?

There are numerous laws and policies across Canada that address the rights of people with disabilities under their respective jurisdictions, and each provides a definition related to its mandates.

The latest is the Accessible Canada Act(ACA). It’s a federal statute, meaning that it only has jurisdiction over federal government agencies and federally-regulated industries such as radio & TV broadcasters, airlines and banks. They have a specific madate, however, to discover, remove and prevent accessibility barriers in communities, workplaces and services. The ACA defines a disability as:

“any impairment, including a physical, mental, intellectual, cognitive, learning, communication or sensory impairment — or a functional limitation — whether permanent, temporary or episodic in nature, or evident or not, that, in interaction with a barrier, hinders a person’s full and equal participation in society.”

The last section of that definition is the focal point for governments, NGOs, non-profits and advocacy groups. The Accessible Canada Act was created to provide disabled Canadians with access to many services they are currently unable to because, as mentioned in the definition above, the construction and delivery of those services create barriers to the disabled.

The 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability identified ten general types of disabilities:

  • vision (or seeing)
  • hearing
  • mobility
  • flexibility
  • dexterity
  • pain-related
  • learning
  • developmental
  • mental health-related
  • memory

The next section looks at how these disabling conditions affect the Canadians living with them.

A woman with a disabling condition and another person look at a laptop

What are the Most Common Disabling Conditions in Canada & Other Relevant Statistics

According to the last comprehensive, Canada-wide study on Canadians living with disabling conditions, these are the most common disabilities:

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*, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis 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* including mental health disability in Ontario 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
* significantly different between women and men at p < .05
Note: The sum of the values for each category may differ from the total due to rounding.
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Survey on Disability, 2017.

Other notable statistics calculated from the data include:

  • Women (24%) were more likely to have a disability than men (20%).
  • Among youth (aged 15 to 24 years), mental health-related disabilities were the most prevalent type (8%).
  • Among those aged 25 to 64 years, persons with disabling conditions 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 Canadians between 25 to 64 years, 76% of those with mild disabilities were employed, in contrast to the 31% of those with very severe disabilities who were employed.
  • Among Canadians with disabling conditions between 25 and 64 years of age who were not employed and not currently in school, two in five (39%) had the potential to work.
  • Persons with more severe disabling conditions (28%) aged 25 to 64 years were more likely to be living in poverty (as defined by the Market Basket Measure) than their cohorts without disabilities (10%) or with milder disabilities (14%).

Using the Law to Address the Effects of Disabling Conditions

Aside from its unique directive to focus on identifying, addressing and preventing barriers that hinder people with disabling conditions from accessing crucial services and fundamental aspects of life in Canada, the difference between the Accessibility Canada Act (ACA) and previous legislation is that the Government of Canada specifically consulted Canadians living with disabling conditions, experts and advocacy groups to help it create the bill and inform its purpose and the procedures it should follow to achieve it.

As a result of these consultations, barriers to Canadians with disabling conditions were identified as:

  • Physical.
  • Architectural.
  • Technological.
  • Attitudinal.
  • Informational or communicative.
  • Anything resulting from a policy or a practice.

The main areas of focus for removing these barriers were prioritized as follows:

  • Employment.
  • Transportation.
  • The built environment.
  • Information and communication technologies (ICT).
  • Other forms of communication.
  • Design and provision of programs and services.
  • Procurement of goods, services and facilities.

The way the ACA attempts to address these barriers is by mandating Federal governmental entities and private organizations that operate in federally-regulated industries to hold annual “town hall” meetings with disabled Canadians, members of the public and their own staff regarding their current barriers and how to remove them. They are also required to have a means for ongoing feedback from the public and internal staff regarding accessibility barriers. Finally, these organizations must hold annual reviews to evaluate how suggestions and feedback were (or were not) implemented, the reasons why and how to implement them moving forward.

Two women in wheelchairs play a game in a bar

General Accessibility Tips and Interacting with Canadians Living with Disabling Conditions

The following accessibility tips are taken from the Government of Canada’s Understanding disabilities page.

Interacting with people

  • Be respectful and flexible, and adapt to people’s needs
  • Do not make assumptions or judgments about people’s disabilities or accessibility needs
  • If a person is wearing a lanyard or badge with a sunflower on it, this may indicate that they have a hidden or invisible disability
  • Do not touch someone without their permission
  • Do not touch or push someone’s wheelchair, walker, cane, or other mobility aid without asking
  • When greeting someone, ask permission before trying to shake their hand
  • Offer assistance, and wait for permission before acting
    • for example, ask, “how can I help?” or “can I carry your bag?” rather than “do you need help?”
  • When speaking with someone in a wheelchair or other mobility aid, consider sitting down to be at their eye level

Communicating with people

  • Speak slowly enough that interpreters can understand you
  • Speak clearly and in a loud voice, but do not shout
  • Hire interpreters to provide information in sign language

Guide and service dogs

  • Do not interact with guide or service dogs unless the handler asks you to
    • Avoid eye contact with the dogs
    • Do not talk to, pet, or feed them
  • Be ready to give the handler directions to nearby toilet areas or sources of water
  • Clearly designate a lawn or relief area for dogs
  • Clearly designate an area with water bowls and feeding space
  • Leave space at tables for dogs to sit or lie comfortably next to their handlers
  • Seat people with guide or service dogs away from high-traffic areas or loudspeakers

If you are living with a disabling condition or know someone who is, and have questions about your rights or financial support, reach out to one of the leading Ontario employment lawyers.

David Ertl Lawyer
About David Ertl
David Ertl, LL.B, has practiced employment and disability law for over 20 years. He is also a certified workplace investigator, former adjunct professor, and has written extensively in the areas of employment law, disability insurance, and tribunal practice and procedure.


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