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Boomers Beware: People With Disabilities Falling Between The Cracks

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: This item is from the Canadian Council On Social Development, May 20, 2003.

Too many Canadians with disabilities are failing to get the medication or medical attention they need according to Gail Fawcett, Senior Research Associate at the Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD). This situation is particularly worrisome at a time when the demographic bulge of the baby boomers is heading into age groups which are at higher risk for disabilities.

Fawcett has found that nearly 15% of Canadians with disabilities report being unable to access the health care they need at some point during the year, more than three times the rate among persons without disabilities. To make matters worse, 19% of working age women and nearly 12% of working age men with disabilities are, at times, unable to afford the medication they need. Among those with severe disabilities, these figures climb to 25% for women and about 18% for men.

"It's a Catch-22 for some individuals who may not be able to work due to a lack of medication or medical attention, but for whom paid employment might be the very thing that provides better access to this required medical support," says Fawcett. "We also find that employment is strongly linked to the overall well-being of people with disabilities."

CCSD research shows that the existing Medical Expense Tax Credit (METC) is not providing relief to those who need it most. The majority of persons with disabilities don't claim the medical expense tax credit, perhaps because expense thresholds are high, the credit is worth only a small fraction of the costs incurred, and it is only relevant to people with taxable incomes. Among those persons with disabilities who do attempt to claim the medical expense tax credit, and who are sometimes unable to purchase required medication, about three in ten report that they do not end up actually receiving any benefit from the credit. Moreover, those who are most severely disabled are less likely to receive the credit than those who are mildly disabled.

"In contrast, we see a lower percentage of Canadians with disabilities aged 65 and over reporting an inability to purchase required medication. This is likely due to the effectiveness of provincial drug assistance plans for seniors," says Fawcett. "We need to be looking at a fully refundable tax credit that is better structured or a drug assistance plan for working-age Canadians who are not covered by a private health plan."

The CCSD's greatest concern is that, as a society, we are not taking the measures needed to prevent people with disabilities from being marginalized.

"Exclusion can start at an early age," says Fawcett. "Negative attitudes toward people with disabilities are already evident in grade school, where children with special needs are more likely to report feeling excluded at school and twice as likely to report being bullied."

In addition, many people acquire their disability in adulthood. In fact, it is well known that the risk of acquiring a disability increases with age. This puts the ageing baby boomer workforce increasingly at risk and makes it more important than ever to set in place supports which will allow people with disabilities to continue leading active, healthy lives.

For more detailed data and analysis on issues affecting people with disabilities, see Disability Information

Sheets 9-12 at www.ccsd.ca/drip/research/. For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact Janet Creery at 236-8977 extension 228, or e-mail media@ccsd.ca

The Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD) is an independent, national, non-profit organization focusing on issues of social and economic security.

Disability Research Information Program, Canadian Council on Social Development, 309 Cooper Street, 5th Floor, Ottawa, Ontario, K2P 0G5

Tel: (613) 236-8977; Fax: (613) 236-2750; Web: www.ccsd.ca; Email: council@ccsd.ca