The silent barriers that individuals with disabilities face daily – and what teenagers can do to eliminate them

The silent barriers that individuals with disabilities face daily – and what teenagers can do to eliminate them

  • What are the types of disabilities and how common is it among Canadians and in the world?

According to the World Health Organization, 15% of the world’s population (an estimated 1.1 billion people) identify as having some form of disability, thus constituting the world’s largest minority. In Canada, more than 5.3 million Canadians—almost 16% of the population in this country—are living with some form of disability that affects their level of freedom, independence or quality of life, according to Statistics Canada.


Of that number, over 200,000 are children and youth. In the latest Canadian Survey on Disability study conducted by Statistics Canada, “disability” has been identified into 10 types: seeing, hearing, mobility, flexibility, dexterity, pain, learning, developmental, mental/psychological, and memory. Many disabilities are not visible. These so-called «hidden disabilities» affect a large portion of Canadians. For example, the Learning Disability Association of Canada estimates that one in 10 Canadians has a learning disability. Moreover, more than 1.4 million working-age adults (15 to 64) reported needing help with everyday physical activities in 2006, according to Statistics Canada.

  • Do Canadians with disabilities face any external barriers and/or discrimantion for their disability(ies)?

Despite these high numbers, Canadian youths who suffer from disabilities face incredible levels of financial, social, and accessibility barriers in their daily lives. For example, over 81% of people with disabilities reported using some kind of assistive technology or specialized equipment to help them move, communicate, learn or carry out the daily activities of life, according to Statistics Canada’s 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability.


However, what is often not well-known among the public is that such assistive technologies and equipment can be extremely expensive and, in many cases, unaffordable. A customized power wheelchair can cost more than $25,000 while a porch lift can cost upwards of $5,000. A specially designed walker can cost up to $2,500.  Modifications and renovations to make a home accessible can cost tens of thousands of dollars. This can cost a single family more than $40,000 a year to care for a child with a severe disability, yet some of these families have a total annual income of barely that much. Canadians also recognize there is a major problem with inclusion of disabled individuals. According to a 2004 Environics research, just 10% of Canadians believe people with disabilities are fully included in society. The majority of Canadians also want to help improve the lives of people with disabilities and agree the social benefit is worth the cost.


Unfortunately, nearly half of Canadians believe in a hiring bias against disabled people: a 2012 BMO study showed that 48% of all respondents believed candidates could be more likely to climb the corporate ladder if they kept their disability under wraps. There is also a huge gap in how much individuals with disabilities earn: in fact, according to a 2012 Canadian Human Rights Commission report, disabled men in the 15 to 64 age group earn $9,557 less than adult males in the same age group who don’t have disabilities. Women between the ages of 15 to 64 earn $8,853 less.


This explains why the poverty rate among those who identified as suffering from either a visible or non-visible disability was 3.9% higher than the average Canadian national poverty rate in 2006 while the self-reported median income of Canadians with disabilities was just over $20,000, according to a 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability. On top of all such financial and social barriers, disabled citizens face multiple educational barriers due to many factors such as the lack of sufficient assistance, accessibilities, and facilities. The evidence of this is that adults with disabilities were only about half as likely to get their university-level degrees as adults without disabilities, according to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (20.2% vs. 40.7%, respectively).

  • Can teenagers do anything to help reduce the negative impact of these barriers? If so, how?

Luckily, as more awareness is spread about such barriers among the Canadian and global public, more opportunities for disabled citizens and ways that anyone, like teenagers, can take to help eliminate these issues! Some of these impactful ways include:

The Enabling Accessibility Fund Youth Leader Opportunity: In 2019, the Government of Canada launched the Enabling Accessibility Fund (EAF) EAF provides funding for eligible capital projects that increase accessibility for people with disabilities in Canadian communities and workplaces, creating more opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in community activities, programs and services, or access employment opportunities. If you are between the ages of 15 and 30, you can register to become a volunteer Youth Accessibility Leaders to:

  • Identify accessibility barriers that persons with disabilities encounter in your community, by identifying obstacles that might prevent them from entering the workforce or participating in community programs and services;
  • Approach the organization with accessibility barriers and encourage them to apply for up to $10,000 in EAF funding to address these barriers; and
  • Assist this organization in developing and submitting a project proposal for funding to the EAF to remove these barriers.

EAF can fund projects such as:

·  Screen reader devices; ·  voice recognition & speech synthesizers; ·  symbolic software; ·  audiovisual fire alarm systems; ·  access ramps; ·  automated door openers; ·  lifts and elevators; ·  snoezelen/multi-sensory rooms; ·  accessible kayaks or canoes; ·  accessible beach mats or wheelchairs; ·  accessible outdoor pathways or raised garden beds.

If you’re interested, before October 31st, 2019, go to

  • The National Educational Association of Disabled Students has a website that lists information about awards and scholarships specifically for students with disabilities. The site is designed to make it easier for disabled students to search for relevant bursaries.
  • Look for opportunities through organizations specific to your area. Call local hospitals and nursing homes to ask about where to volunteer or talk to someone you know works professionally with people who are disabled.
  • Raise or donate money: Sometimes, fundraising is very helpful. People with disabilities sometimes need extra funds to cover medical costs, home renovations, and other expenses. Many organizations periodically conduct fundraisers and donating money, even a small amount, can help. You can also ask friends and family members to donate as well. You can organize a school fundraising bake sale or donation drive. However, always make sure you are donating to a reputable, well-known, and positive-impact driving organization.

Let’s get working towards building a more accessible and inclusive world!

Written by: Shifa H. Sarker.

CORIA Canada.




Graphs by: Shifa H. Sarker

  • Info in graphs from:  World Health Organization (for the graph “Percentage of the World’s Population That Identify as Having a Form of Disability”)
  • Statistics Canada (for the graph “Percentage of Canadian Population Identifying With Some Form of Disability”)
  • Statistics Canada’s 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability (for the graph “Percentage of Disabled Canadians Requiring Assistive Technology and Specialized Equipment”)