Provincial and Territorial Ranking

Income of People with Disabilities

Key Messages

  • Manitoba is the best-performing province: the average income of people with disabilities is 76.5 per cent that of people without disabilities.
  • Alberta is the worst-performing province, as people with disabilities earn, on average, just two-thirds that of people without disabilities.
  • People living with disabilities earn between 70 and 75 per cent of the income earned by people without disabilities in most provinces.

Putting income of people with disabilities in context

About 3.8 million Canadians—almost 14 per cent of the population aged 15 years and older—reported having a disability in 2012.1 Disabilities are understood here as a spectrum of conditions that include “developmental or intellectual limitations and mental health, as well as physical, visual or sensory limitations.”2

The average age of onset for disabilities within the Canadian population is 43—men reported an earlier age of onset (41.5 years) than women (44.5 years). In general, more women than men report having one or more disabilities.3

Disparities exist between the income earned by people with disabilities and those without. Gaps in earnings also exist among people with varying degrees and types of disability. These wage inequalities affect societies in a number of ways.

To be sure, the persistent under- and unemployment of people with disabilities directly affects their self-sufficiency and social and economic participation, which can increase the burden on a society’s socio-economic resources.

What is more, a society’s failure to deliver on the promise of inclusion and equality of employment opportunity is a failure to promote human dignity and ensure that the social conditions for leading good lives are in place for the greatest number of Canadians.

How is the income of people with disabilities calculated?

This indicator examines the disposable income of people with disabilities as a share of the disposable income of people without disabilities.

Comparable data do not exist at the international level, so we look only at provincial performance. We also chose not to assign grades for this indicator because of the sizable difference in the income of people with and without disabilities for even the best-performing province—in other words, no province deserves an “A.” Nonetheless, it is important to present data on the disparities between the income earned by people with disabilities and those without to examine income inequities across jurisdictions.

How do the provinces fare relative to each other?

Manitoba is the top-performing province on income of people with disabilities—the average income of people with disabilities is 76.5 per cent that of people without disabilities.

In Ontario and Nova Scotia, the income of people with disabilities is 74.8 and 74.4 per cent that of people without disabilities, respectively. P.E.I. (73.3 per cent) does better than the national average (72.7 per cent), while Newfoundland and Labrador matches the national average.

There is a slight difference between the performance of New Brunswick (71.9 per cent) and Saskatchewan (71.7 per cent) on this indicator. The income of people with disabilities in B.C. and Quebec is 70.7 and 70.5 per cent that of people without disabilities, respectively.

Alberta is the worst-performing province—the income for people with disabilities is 66.1 per cent that of people without disabilities.

How do the territories fare on income of people with disabilities?

The income of people with disabilities in Nunavut is 92.7 per cent that of people without disabilities, making it the best-performing Canadian jurisdiction. Nunavut’s performance is 16 percentage points higher than that of top-performing province, Manitoba.

The income of people with disabilities in the Yukon is 76.9 per cent that of people without disabilities, which places it slightly ahead of Manitoba.

The Northwest Territories is on the other end of the spectrum. The income of people with disabilities in N.W.T. is only 57.6 per cent that of people without disabilities, making it the poorest-performing Canadian jurisdiction.

The territories are not included in the overall provincial and international benchmarking calculations because data for the territories are not available for key indicators included in the overall society report card. However, the Conference Board is committed to including the territories in our analysis, and so we provide information on territorial performance when data are available.

What contributes to lower incomes for people with disabilities?

Many factors contribute to the difference in income for those with disabilities versus the income for those without. The gap often results from differences in both employment and participation rates, which themselves depend on:

  • disability prevalence
  • severity of disability
  • disability type
  • age of disability onset

About 32 per cent of the 3.8 million Canadians aged 15 years and older who reported a disability in 2012 “were classified as having a mild disability; 20 per cent, a moderate disability, 23 per cent a severe disability; and 26 per cent, a very severe disability.”4

Typically, Canadians living with disabilities, be they physical or mental, are underemployed.

There is a 26.3 percentage point difference between the employment rate of Canadians with disabilities (47.3 per cent) and the rate for those without disabilities (73.6 per cent). The range of differences varies between a low of –1.4 percentage points in Nunavut (55.5 per cent of people with disabilities are employed versus 54.1 per cent of people without) and a high of 33 percentage points in Quebec (39.9 per cent of people with disabilities are employed versus 72.9 per cent of people without).

These large gaps in employment rates are regrettable given that individuals with mild or moderate physical disabilities have the potential to participate fully in the labour force when simple workplace accommodations are in place, such as accessible elevators and parking, handrails and ramps, and appropriate parking.5


The difference in the participation rates of Canadians with and without disabilities is slightly smaller than the difference in employment rates. There is a 25.7 percentage point difference between the participation rate of Canadians with disabilities (53.6 per cent) and without disabilities (79.3 per cent).

The range of differences in participation rates varies between a low of 0.7 percentage points in Nunavut (65.5 per cent of people with disabilities participate in the labour force versus 66.2 per cent of people without) and a high of 33.4 percentage points in Quebec (44.6 per cent of people with disabilities participate in the labour force versus 78 per cent of people without).


Low rates of employment and labour force participation among people with disabilities may be partly age-related—disabilities tend to be more prevalent among older adults, who are less likely than younger adults to be employed or actively engaged in the labour market.6 Since the prevalence of disabilities tends to increase with age, introducing workplace accommodation could help people stay in the workforce longer.

That said, the age at which disabilities are acquired also affects labour market outcomes for people with disabilities. Typically, employment outcomes are more favourable for people who acquire a disability later in life, or whose disability is episodic, than for individuals for whom disability is a constant throughout their lives.7 This is because those who experience a disability later in life are likely to have more career experience, which helps to lessen the socio-economic challenges of their disability.

Employment rates of people with disabilities also vary by disability type. For example, “people with hearing- or pain-related disability have the highest employment rates—approximately 50 per cent, whereas people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have employment rates around 25 per cent.”8

Do people with a disability perceive employment discrimination due to disability?

According to Statistics Canada’s 2014 General Social Survey, 2.6 per cent of respondents with a disability reported that they perceived employment discrimination due to their disability. Perceived employment discrimination due to disability ranged from a low of 1.1 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador to a high of 3.5 per cent in Saskatchewan.9


What is the relationship between disability, education, and income?

Access to education and training is crucial to being able to participate effectively in the workforce. A recent report about inclusive employment for Canadians with disabilities suggests that individuals whose disabilities occur at birth or are developed and diagnosed early in life may have limited access to inclusive education, work experience during secondary education, and early labour market participation.10

Indeed, transition planning and employment preparation are not always promoted within school systems, and relationships between schools and local employers and employment services are often underdeveloped for students with disabilities.11 Without career-planning experiences during primary and secondary education, individuals with disabilities may be excluded from or undervalued in the labour force and, consequently, may be at an income disadvantage later in life.

Furthermore, within Canada, there are disparities between the education levels of people with and without disabilities: in 2012, “almost 80% of 25- to 64-year-olds with disabilities had at least a high school diploma; this compared with 90% of those without disabilities.”12

There are also differences in educational attainment between people with varying degrees of disability. People with severe disabilities are more likely than those with mild disabilities to have obtained less a high school diploma—22 per cent versus 16 per cent, respectively.13

This variation in educational attainment and access to employment education may support the finding of the 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability that across Canada, nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of people with moderate disabilities reported that they were employed, as compared with 41 per cent of those with severe disabilities, and 26 per cent of those with very severe disabilities.14

What can the provinces and territories do to reduce the income gap between those with disabilities and those without?

People with disabilities across the Canadian provinces and territories, except Nunavut, have much lower incomes than their non-disabled peers.

Federal, provincial, and territorial governments have introduced many programs and targeted funding opportunities to tackle social inclusion barriers faced by people with disabilities.15 For example, the federal Opportunities Fund for Persons With Disabilities “helps people with disabilities prepare for, obtain and maintain employment or self-employment.”16 The federal government also provides funds to community organizations that work to enable communities to become more inclusive of persons with disabilities.

Each provincial and territorial government receives federal funds through labour market agreements for people with disabilities to increase skills development and post-secondary education supports, as well as employment opportunities for people with disabilities.17

Over a decade ago, Ontario was the first province to pass legislation that mandated accessibility for people with disabilities. Its Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act, 2005 has the stated goal of achieving an accessible Ontario by 2025. Specifically, it aims to realize “accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises on or before January 1, 2025,” and provide for their involvement in various sectors of the economy.18

Significantly, this act lays out standards and regulations (along with compliance timelines) and stipulates that if people or organizations fail to comply with them, they are subject to penalties, including administrative fines.

Since the introduction of Ontario’s accessibility act, governments in Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia, as well as the federal government, have all taken steps to pass accessibility legislation, although none are fully in force yet.

Despite the programs and policies introduced in many Canadian jurisdictions, and those being developed, much work remains to be done to redress employment and income inequality.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Health Organization have identified a number of policy changes that can be made to improve employment conditions for people living with disabilities and reduce income gaps:

  • Promote early intervention and access to supports for people with disabilities to help them get the support they require in a timely and comprehensive fashion.
  • Coordinate federal programs with provincial or territorial programs to ensure better access to, and closer evaluation of, disability benefits.
  • Develop tailored vocational training services and programs that align with individual and community needs, rather than general, one-size-fits-all programs.
  • Enhance school-to-work transition planning for youth with disabilities, including providing upskilling and apprenticeship opportunities, to help them prepare for employment.
  • Ensure that social protection programs—e.g., long-term disability benefits—effectively support people with disabilities’ return to work, rather than create disincentives to returning to employment.
  • Design, monitor, and evaluate labour market programs aimed at facilitating and increasing employment of people with disabilities to ensure that they focus on creating inclusive, not segregated, solutions.19, 20

Additionally, The Conference Board of Canada recently launched its website on accessible employment practices, which contains educational material and resources to help organizations create an accessible and inclusive work environment for people with disabilities.21

Improving labour market opportunities and conditions for people with disabilities will help to guarantee their self-sufficiency and human dignity, as well as contribute to society’s social cohesion and socio-economic capacity.

Footnotes

1     Rubab Arim, A Profile of Persons With Disabilities Among Canadians Aged 15 Years and Older, 2012 (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, March 13, 2015).

2    Michael J. Prince, Inclusive Employment for Canadians With Disabilities (IRPP, August 2016), 3.

3    Ibid.

4    Rubab Arim, A Profile of Persons With Disabilities Among Canadians Aged 15 Years and Older, 2012 (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, March 13, 2015), 9.

5    Michael J. Prince, Inclusive Employment for Canadians With Disabilities (IRPP, August 2016).

6    Rubab Arim, A Profile of Persons With Disabilities Among Canadians Aged 15 Years and Older, 2012 (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, March 13, 2015), 2012.

7    Ibid.

8    Michael J. Prince, Inclusive Employment for Canadians With Disabilities (IRPP, August 2016), 3.

9    Statistics Canada, General Social Survey.

10    Michael J. Prince, Inclusive Employment for Canadians with Disabilities (IRPP, August 2016).

11    Ibid.

12    Rubab Arim, A Profile of Persons With Disabilities Among Canadians Aged 15 Years and Older, 2012 (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, March 13, 2015), 14.

13    Ibid., 16.

14    Ibid.

15    Government of Canada, Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, 2014.

16    Government of Canada, Opportunities Fund for Persons With Disabilities.

17    Government of Canada, Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, 2014.

18    Queen’s Printer for Ontario, Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act, 2005

19    Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Sickness, Disability and Work, 2010.

20    World Health Organization, World Report on Disability, 2011.

21    The Conference Board of Canada, Accessible Employment Practices.