Public Health Association of BC Public Health Association of BC

Rise Up to End Poverty & Deprivation of BC’s Disabled & Poor

Below is a transcript of a speech given by our Executive Director, Shannon Turner, on March 2, 2017 hosted by the BC Disability Caucus ( the BC Parliament Buildings.

Thank you Paul for your kind introduction and thank you to the BC Disability Caucus for your important work in bringing the challenges and capacities of persons living with a disability to the attention of BC citizens and our government representatives.

I am happy to be here representing the Public Health Association of BC at this important event. PHABC is a not for profit society with membership from a wide range of public health professionals, researchers, and advocates. Our organization is over 60 years old. Our vision is a fair and healthy British Columbia for all. Our mission is to promote health, wellbeing, and equity for all British Columbians through leadership in public health.

One of the key strategies we employ in our policy and advocacy work is a rigorous review of the evidence. In public health we understand that health is achieved through a combination of protective factors and conditions. We know that the system you live in contributes to your health outcomes. We use the term “determinants of health” to describe those factors that contribute to a person’s health experience. In November 1986, Canada was the host country for an important international conference on health promotion. Out of that meeting a landmark charter was crafted which identified several prerequisites for health. These conditions are:

  • Peace
  • Shelter
  • Education
  • Food
  • Income
  • A stable eco-system
  • Sustainable resources
  • Social justice, and
  • Equity

The absence of any of these “determinants” can have a negative impact on health outcomes including higher rates of illness, and, in some cases premature mortality. So to be clear, biological endowment is not the sole predictor of health. The conditions in which a person lives, the stresses they encounter, the degree of power they feel they have over their life conditions has an impact on their health status and their self-assessment of health. To put it simply, the conditions you live in and with have an impact on your ability to thrive. In fact we can observe a social gradient of health connected to these prerequisites. Lack in any one of these areas will impact your health status. Lack in more than one has a compounding impact on health outcomes.

So how does this relate to the concerns we are addressing here today? Let us examine how persons with disabilities experience these determinants in Canada and in BC remembering that people often experience different types of disability across the lifespan and as a result of a range of causal factors.

The most recent Participation and Activity Limitation Survey provides us with an estimate of the population of persons with a disability. Data from the 2006, Participation and Activity Limitation survey indicates that 14.3% of Canadians had a disability.1 That is one in seven Canadians. In BC 12.8% of British Columbians between the ages of 15 and 64 indicated they had a disability. That is 355,430 persons.2

A quick review of Canadian and BC statistics reveals three compelling findings. First what do we know about employment for persons with disabilities?

In Canada and in BC the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is higher that the non-disabled population. In 2006, the unemployment rate for all people with disabilities aged 15 to 64 was 10.4%. This is higher than the non-disabled population at 6.8%.3

A 2009 report by BC Stats on Labour Market Outcomes of persons with disabilities in BC identified that:

  • disabled persons take part in the labour force less often,
  • disabled persons were significantly more often not in the labour force compared to those without disabilities (38.5% vs. 21.5%, respectively),
  • the unemployment rate of disabled persons was 8.9%, higher than for the non-disabled population at 5.7%.2

This is important because there are a number of benefits associated with employment including financial reward, a sense of identity, dignity, purpose, and social capital.

Education that influences employability is often a challenge for persons with disabilities.

Let us look at educational outcomes for persons with disabilities in Canada and BC.

According to Statistics Canada, educational achievement differs between persons with a disability and without a disability:3
Percentage of Population with High School Diploma

In general there is a 10% difference for completion of high school between those with a disability and those with no disability, and it is a similar situation for the percentage of population with a university degree:

With a High School Diploma:

  • No Disability: Men = 88%, Women = 90%
  • With a Disability: Men = 79%, Women = 81%

With a University Degree:

  • No Disability: Men = 23%, Women = 23%
  • With a Disability: Men = 14%, Women = 14%4


Income of Disabled Persons

Total income of disabled persons was lower than that of non-disabled persons. In BC an analysis of income assistance for people with disabilities produced compelling findings. Dr. Michael Prince has spoken about the inadequacy of income assistance in his social policy review Feb. 2017. 5

Given the clear inequalities experienced by persons with disabilities pertaining to employment, education, and income and what we know about the conditions that create positive health and healthy communities it is clear that we have work ahead of us to craft a more just society. How do we reduce social isolation, marginalization, and build communities that reflect the diversity and capacity of all that we are?

We need to address the things that lead to increased inequality. We need to build supportive environments for persons living with disabilities. This means healthy public policy that reduces income disparity, a built environment that is supportive and accessible, and the promotion of social norms that see ability and capacity and create space for all British Columbians to participate in daily life, in schools, in the workforce, in cyberspace, and in recreational settings.

We are calling on all elected representatives and political parties at all levels of governance to consider the significant economic, educational and social inclusion challenges faced by persons with disabilities in BC and to respond with policy that increases access to educational options, strategies for workforce inclusion, a living wage and social norms which recognize the potential of all citizens to participate fully in community life.


  1. Statistics Canada Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division. (2006). Participation and Activity Limitation Survey 2006: Analytical Report. Ottawa, ON.
  2. BC Stats. Labour Market Outcomes of Persons with Disabilities in British Columbia. (2009). Victoria, BC.
  3. Statistics Canada Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division. Participation and Activity Limitation Survey 2006: Labour Force Experience of People with Disabilities in Canada. Ottawa, ON.
  4. Galarneau, D. and Radulescu, M. (2009). Employment among the disabled. Perspectives on Labour and Income. Vol. 10, no. 5. Statistics Canada. Ottawa, ON.
  5. Prince, M. J. (2017). Toward Adequate Income Assistance for People with Disabilities in British Columbia. Broadbent Institute. Ottawa, ON.