Serious Problems Experienced by People with Disabilities Living in Atlantic Canada



The Canadian Legal Problems Survey (CLPS) is a general population survey that is being undertaken by Statistics Canada, on behalf of Justice Canada and other federal departments. The CLPS will target 30,000 respondents and is planned to be in the field in 2021. The CLPS addresses the many challenges of collecting national administrative data on civil and family matters by focusing on legal needs and how those needs were, or were not, addressed, as well as the health and economic impacts of these legal problems. To ensure that the voices of people who experience multiple barriers to inclusion are heard, 13 smaller qualitative studies were completed by community-based researchers to complement data collected through the national survey.

The following report presents the results of a qualitative study that was conducted with people with disabilities throughout Atlantic Canada, with a focus on New Brunswick.

Each participant was asked about the types of serious problems they have encountered over the last three years. Further questions were asked about how they sought to resolve the problems that they experienced and the outcomes of those actions. Participants were also asked why they felt the problems had occurred in the first place and how these problems have affected their lives. More specifically, participants were asked the following six questions:

  1. What serious problems, legal or otherwise, have you experienced in the last three years?
  2. What did you do to try and solve each problem?
  3. What was the outcome? What happened as a result?
  4. Why do you think the problem occurred?
  5. What has been the effect of this problem on your life?
  6. If you had more than one serious problem, do you think that these problems were connected to one another?


To identify participants for this survey, the Saint John Human Development Council (SJHDC) worked with the New Brunswick Disabilities Executive Network (NBDEN), which agreed to assist with participant recruitment. Executive directors who are members of the NBDEN passed information through their networks and invited community members to participate in this study. An honorarium of $100 was provided to each participant in recognition for their time and lived expertise on the issue of serious legal and other problems faced by individuals with disabilities. Appropriate accommodations were provided to ensure accessible and safe participation.

A total of 28 interviews were conducted to understand the nature of legal problems experienced by individuals with disabilities. Due to the pandemic, all interviews were carried out by telephone or via Zoom.

There are limitations to this qualitative research report. It examines the subjective experience of participants and is based on individual perspectives that cannot be independently verified. But these are important perspectives based on lived experience. The most effective way to understand the legal and other serious problems encountered by people with disabilities and the impact on their lives is to through a qualitative study like this.

A further limitation is that the findings cannot be generalized to the overall population of people with disabilities.

A Snapshot: People with Disabilities in the Atlantic Provinces

The chart below shows the prevalence of disabilities by age group in New Brunswick, in the Atlantic Provinces and in Canada as a whole.

Serious Problems Experienced by People with Disabilities Living in Atlantic Canada

Figure 1: Graph of Prevalence of disability by age group (2017)
Text version
Prevalence of Disability by Age Group, 2017
Jurisdiction New Brunswick Atlantic Provinces Canada
15 to 24 years 17% 19% 13%
25 to 44 years 18% 21% 15%
45 to 64 years 28% 30% 24%
65 to 74 years 35% 34% 32%
75 years and older 29% 45% 47%

Within New Brunswick and across the country, disabilities were more prevalent among women than men. This trend persisted across most broad age categories, but was most pronounced among youth.

Both immigrants and visible minorities were less likely to have a disability than non-immigrants/non-visible minorities. Within New Brunswick, among individuals aged 15 years and over, 22.1 percent of immigrants and 12.6 percent of visible minorities had one or more disabilities, compared with national rates of 19.2 percent and 15 percent respectively.1

Among New Brunswickers with disabilities aged 15 years and over, 24.7 percent were classified as having a “very severe” disability, 22.6 percent as having a “severe” disability, 17.1 percent as having a “moderate” disability, and 35.6 percent as having a “mild” disability.2

The most common types of disabilities were those related to pain, flexibility, mobility, and mental health.

Compared with the country as a whole, New Brunswick’s typical working-age population with disabilities is somewhat more likely to have disabilities related to mental health, flexibility, mobility, dexterity, or hearing, but somewhat less likely to have disabilities related to seeing or learning.

Prevalence of specific disability types varied significantly by age group. Among youth, mental health-related disabilities were by far the most common disability type, affecting 11.2 percent of the population aged 15 to 24 years within the province (and 7.8 percent Canada-wide).

As of 2017, 44.7 percent of persons with disabilities aged 15 years and over in New Brunswick had completed some form of post-secondary education, compared with 52.1 percent of persons without disabilities. Nationally, these percentages were 48.4 percent and 57.7 percent, respectively. These numbers are likely in part a reflection of the fact that persons with disabilities are generally older than persons without disabilities (and older individuals are less likely to have obtained post-secondary credentials).

At the time of the 2016 Census (May 2016), only 55.4 percent of persons with disabilities aged 25 to 64 years in New Brunswick were employed, compared with 76.5 percent of persons without disabilities. Nationally, 59.3 percent of persons with disabilities aged 25 to 64 years were employed, compared with 80.1 percent of persons without disabilities. Among employed persons with disabilities aged 25 to 64 years in New Brunswick, 37.3 percent required one or more workplace accommodations (34.4 percent nationally).

As of 2017, an estimated 15,270 non-employed persons with disabilities aged 25 to 64 years in New Brunswick had potential to work.3

Among the provinces and territories, New Brunswick had the highest proportion of non-employed persons with disabilities without work potential.

Employment rates among persons with disabilities varied significantly by disability type. At the time of the 2016 Census, employment rates for persons with disabilities in the province were lowest among those with developmental (22.8 percent) and memory (33.7 percent) disabilities and highest for those with hearing (58.0 percent) and seeing (56.3 percent) related disabilities (along with “unknown” disabilities).4

In 2015, persons with disabilities aged 25 to 64 years in New Brunswick had a median after-tax income of $26,879, ranking ninth among all provinces and territories (ahead of the other Atlantic provinces and Quebec), and well below the national median for this group, $28,452.

Demographic Profile of Participants

Demographic Profile of Participants

Demographic profile of Participants
Text version

This is an infographic. The header says “Demographic profile of Participants, 28 individuals participated in the legal problems study for Atlantic Canada.” On the right, it says “Human Development Council” along with the logo.

In the next row, there is a silhouette of a woman below 75% and the silhouette of a man below 25%. Next to those symbols, there is an image of multiple apartment buildings and text that says “75% reside in urban areas”; there is an image of a single house and text that says “25% reside in rural areas”. On the right, there is a yellow maple leaf overlaid with text that says “96% were born in Canada; 4% permanent residents”.

In the middle row, there is a vertical stacked bar with the title: Education Level. At the bottom, it says 7% “did not complete high school”, above that, it says 21% “high school/GED”, above that, it says 4% “business abilities course”, above that, it says 46% “college”, and at the top, it says 21% “university degree”.

There is an image of a briefcase with the title: Employment Status. Text over the image reads: 68% not employed for pay; 18% employed full time; 10% other; 4% employed part-time.

There is a dark circle with the title: Ethnicity. Text overlaying the image reads: 92% Caucasian; 4% West Asian; 4% Identified as First Nations. There is a pie chart with the title: Income for past year. One segment reads 25% $25,000-$49,000. The next segment reads 39% $1-$9,999. The third segments reads 36% $10,000-$24,000.

The last row on the poster has two charts.

One is a donut chart entitled: Sexual orientation. The largest curve says 89% heterosexual; another curve says 7% bisexual, and the last curve says 4% lesbian.

The other is a pie chart entitled: Most commonly cited disability as identified by participants. The largest segment says “Chronic Illness” 48%; the next segment says “Physical Disability” 21%; the next segment says “Neurodiversity” 1%; the next segment says “Psychiatric Disability” 14% ; the next segment says “Deaf and Hard of Hearing” 3%; the next segment says “Blind and Visually Impaired” 7%; the next segment says “Learning disability” 6%. There is also a disclaimer that says “Note: typologies, while sometimes useful for categorizing for the purposes of presenting a snapshot of a given issue, do not capture the messy, lived realities of people. There is always overlap and slippage between any chosen categories of disability that a typology cannot capture.”


1 All data found in this document pertaining to immigrants, visible minority groups, education, and income were accessed through the Community Data Program and rely on the 2016 Census.

2 Severity classes are based on the number of disability types that a person has, the level of difficulty experienced in performing certain tasks, and the frequency of activity limitations. The names assigned to each class are simply intended to facilitate its use and are not intended as labels or judgment on the person’s level of disability. In other words, the classes should be interpreted as follows: people in class 1 have a less severe disability than people in class 2; people in class 2 have a less severe disability than people in class 3; and people in class 3 have a less severe disability than people in class 4.

3 Potential to work refers to those who were officially unemployed or not in the labour force but stated they would be looking for work in the next 12 months, or those not in the labour force but who did not report that they were housebound, prevented from working, or that no accommodation would enable them to work.

4 When interpreting this data, it is important to consider that individuals may fall into several disability-type categories. For example, the labour force characteristics presented for persons with “pain-related” disabilities reflect the population of any individual with a pain-related disability, including those who, in addition to pain-related disabilities, also have disabilities related to mental health, mobility, flexibility, etc.

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