Trying to 'Make the Grade': Education, Work-Related Training


Following the 2006 Census, Statistics Canada used the Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS) to gather information about people with disabilities. Disability was defined as any long-term or recurring difficulty in activities related to hearing, seeing, communicating, mobility, agility, learning or similar activities or a condition or health problem that reduces the amount or kind of activity people can do at home, work, school or other activities such as transportation or leisure. Based on PALS, 16.5% of adults or almost 4.2 million Canadians have at least one disability.

Together, the Census and PALS provide information about people with disabilities who live on low incomes (people in households that spend after taxes 20% or more than the average on food, shelter and clothing). This is the after tax low-income cut-off (LICO) and is sometimes called the ‘poverty line’. It doesn’t include disability-related costs such as medication, services, or aids for mobility, communication or learning. In 2005 almost half a million (20.5%) working-age adults 15 to 64 years with disabilities lived on a low income. This fact sheet looks at the education, work-related training and low-income status of Canadians with and without disabilities.

Secondary and Post-Secondary Education among People with Disabilities

  • Working-age people with disabilities are more likely to have no formal educational certification – not even a high school diploma – than those without disabilities (27.4% and 18.3%, respectively) and are also less likely to have a university degree or certificate (13.2% vs. 20.7%).

Disability, Low-Income Status and Highest Level of Educational Certification

  • In general, regardless of the level of education obtained, people with disabilities are still about twice as likely to live on low incomes as people without disabilities.
  • For example, 28.7% of people with disabilities who don’t have a high school graduation certificate are in low income households, compared with 14.2% of their counterparts without disabilities. The two to one spread in low income rates between people with vs. without disabilities is similar for people with a high school graduation certificate (20.2% vs. 11.1%), trades certificate or diploma (17.8% vs. 9.2%) and a college certificate or diploma (17.0% vs. 8.3%).
  • However, the spread decreases where people with disabilities earn a degree, diploma or other certificate from a university. Here, 12.4% of people with disabilities and 8.2% without live on low incomes, a spread of 1.5 times instead of twice the rate of poverty.

Educational Experiences and Disability

  • Working-age people living below the LICO who acquired their disabilities before completing their formal education are more likely than their counterparts living above the LICO to report difficulties with their education.
  • These difficulties include starting school later than their same-aged peers (18.1% vs. 8.3%), changing schools because of disability (23.3% vs. 15.6%) and changing their course of study due to disability (24.7% vs. 17.2%).
  • This group is more likely than their counterparts living above the LICO to have experienced various forms of separation or segregation in the education system. For instance, they are more likely to have attended special schools or special classes in regular schools (25.8% vs. 17.9%), to have undergone home schooling (14.8% vs. 10.5%) and to have left their community to attend school because of disability (16.3% vs. 8.6%).
  • Members of this group are also more likely than their counterparts living above the LICO to report that they have had extra educational expenses because of disability (14.4% compared to 10.5%). As well, they are more likely to have experienced interruptions in their education (36.5% vs. 19.8%) and to have taken fewer courses than they would have if they didn’t have a disability (39.3% vs. 22.4%). These factors contribute to this group’s greater likelihood of reporting that they feel it has taken longer for them to achieve their present level of education (44.3% below vs. 24.5% of those living above the LICO).
  • Despite the increased likelihood of experiencing difficulty in obtaining an education, those who had disabilities prior to completing their formal education are more likely to return to school for re-training if they live below the LICO (31.9%) than if they live above it (21.6%).

Work-Related Training

  • For people with disabilities, living on a low income is associated with their lack of access to work-related training.
  • For instance, among people with disabilities who were active in the labor force at some point from 2001 through 2006, only 10% who received classroom-based or on-the-job work-related training report low incomes, compared with 19.6 % of their counterparts with disabilities who didn’t receive such training.

This information was produced through the Council of Canadians with Disabilities’ Disabling Poverty/Enabling Citizenship project, which is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council's (SSHRC) Community-University Research Alliances (CURA.