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Maritimes have a high disability rate in Canada: Statistics Canada

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In just five years, the number of people in Canada who report having some form of disability has increased.

The latest figures from Statistic Canada are from 2022. They show that 27 per cent of Canadians aged 15 and over, or 8 million people, had at least one disability. While this number is high, if you look only at the Maritimes, the situation is even more worrying.

Haley Flaro, executive director of Ability New Brunswick, said the increases are not surprising given the number of referrals to services they have seen over the past few years.

“I predicted we would have the highest disability rate in Canada, and we almost caught up with Nova Scotia. I'm glad I was wrong. I was really glad I was wrong,” she said.

“However, we have had the largest increase of any province in Canada, eight per cent, and that has a significant impact on health and disability services.”

Looking more closely, the average disability rate in the country increased by 4.7 percent to a total of 27 percent in 2022 compared to 2017.

Nova Scotia has the highest disability rate in the country at 37.9 percent, after previously seeing an increase of 7.6 percent.

New Brunswick ranks second with an increase of 8.6 percent to 35.3 percent, and Prince Edward Island ranks third with a disability rate of 31.8 percent, up 5.8 percent.

“This will have a ripple effect throughout the province,” Flaro said.

“We're already seeing this impact people who are overtaxing our health care system because they lack preventative care and access to specialists. We're already seeing people leaving work or education because they're not getting the right health care.”

She says Ability New Brunswick has done a lot to reach populations that may not currently access services and has seen not only an increase in referrals but also a lot of new diagnoses.

“New Brunswick has the highest rate of multiple sclerosis in the country and we are seeing an increase in the number of people being diagnosed with MS, which affects their mobility and who are using our services,” she said.

“We also see many rare neurological diseases in young people and children and so we have cared for many more children and young people with our programs, which has a big impact on policy,”

In addition, according to Flaro, 40 percent of seniors in New Brunswick have a disability, the most common being mobility, and 30 to 35 percent of Ability New Brunswick clients also struggle with mental health issues.

“We really need to make sure that we are providing appropriate services to seniors and people with disabilities, and that includes health services and social development services. And I don't get the impression that our policymakers are considering what that means for health and social policy,” she said.

Statistics Canada has classified disabilities into 11 different categories:

  • mental health
  • pain-related
  • See
  • Learn
  • Memory
  • mobility
  • flexibility
  • Hear
  • skill
  • Development
  • Unknown

Of these categories, the largest increases were in mental health, pain and visual impairment.

“[For example] “Here's someone who has a disability, is struggling with pain management issues, and it takes two to three years to see a specialist? Their health deteriorates, their pain increases, they stop working, there's a significant impact on productivity and the labor market, and then they're always in emergency,” Flaro said as an example.

“Some disabilities are preventable, others are not. But disability caused by pain is manageable, and with the right access to treatment and care, waiting times of two to three years are a disgrace, really.”

Flaro points to the lack of timely health care, inflation, food shortages and other everyday problems. She has worked for non-profit organizations in New Brunswick for 26 years and has become “less concerned” about the problems facing people with disabilities.