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The Hidden and Immeasurable Cost of Living with a Disability 



The perception that disability is a rare occurrence is false. Statistics Canada reports that 27% of Canadians aged 15 to 64 self-identify as having a disability. That is eight million individuals who may have a functional impairment in the body or mind, preventing them from accessing certain activities or participating in the surrounding community. 

 

Individuals with a disability have more significant medical costs associated with their disability, such as purchasing assistive devices or medications. However, there are many nuances - financial, social, and emotional that individuals with a disability experience, and there is much room for policy to improve on. 

 

Financial Costs and Considerations 


According to Statistics Canada, only 42% of individuals with a severe disability are employed compared to 78% of able-bodied individuals. Their lower financial disposition is exacerbated by insufficient social assistance programs, such as the Ontario Disability Support Program, which offers aid to cover living expenses, including food and rent.  

 

A single individual on ODSP receives about $1300 per month to cover basic needs (i.e., food and rent). Additional amounts may be provided for medical expenses based on individual needs. However, living in a city like Toronto, where rent trends are upward of $2000 and advanced medical care is readily available for individuals with complex conditions, it is difficult to reconcile such contrasting circumstances. 

 

The Canadian government defines poverty as having just enough money to cover essential needs such as food or housing. However, when individuals with a disability have additional living expenses, they may ‘on paper’ appear to be above the poverty line when their reality is a significantly different situation. 

 

For example, say an individual had a spinal cord injury and required a wheelchair to remain independent. The cost of manual wheelchairs ranges from $500 to $9000. If the individual seeks a more specialized device (i.e., a power wheelchair) that is conducive to their lifestyle, it can be upwards of $20,000. Since not everyone can afford this, such financial sacrifices can limit individuals from maximizing their quality of life and community participation.  

 

Additionally, there are big and small costs that able-bodied individuals may not think about that individuals with a disability must account for. In terms of transportation, there are costs related to modifying vehicles for independent driving that can vary depending on the degree of modifications. However, they can range from $15,000 to as much as $40,000.  

 

Individuals must also pay for any broken equipment or repairs, support a caregiver's (i.e., PSW) salary, accessible home modifications, and more. Pain relief accrues costs upwards of hundreds of dollars per month; individuals must pay out of pocket for both prescription and over-the-counter medication. This has led many individuals to ‘skip out’ on purchasing medication because they cannot afford to spare expenses for them.  

 

There is a cost to bladder and bowel elimination. Unless individuals have insurance coverage (which many don’t since only 42% of those with severe disability are employed), equipment such as catheters, lubricants, and gloves must be replaced monthly at costs exceeding $100.  

 

There are so many nuances related to each specific disability; for example, the cost of hearing aids ranges from $1000 - $3000, but the Ontario government will cover 75% of the cost, up to $500 per aid, for three to five years. This can be highly stressful for a low-income family, and the money spent on hearing aids may not be used for other essential living purposes.  

 

The Cost of Time

 

Not only does it take large sums of money to navigate daily life with a disability, but there is a significant cost of time. Individuals must allocate much time to medical appointments and visits to specialists and physical therapists. These appointments also involve travel time, waiting periods, and coordinating with caregivers or transportation services. 

 

Rehabilitation and other therapies require regular time commitments and involve exercises and activities that may need to be practiced at home.  

 

Moreover, participating in social and recreational activities may require more planning and effort for individuals with disabilities. Factors such as accessibility, transportation, and cost must be considered and often limit the individual. 

 

 

The Physical and Emotional Cost 


The cumulative effect of navigating the physical, financial, social, and mental aspects of one’s disability can be very tough and emotionally draining to navigate. Socially, barriers to inclusion, such as inaccessible ramps, sidewalks, and buildings, can be lonely and isolating, as individuals face limitations to fully participate in their communities.  

 

The combined effect of such challenges underscores the emotional challenges that individuals may face each day. It creates a need to balance between managing the physical limitations, financial strain, and societal barriers while maintaining a sense of autonomy and independence. However, the experiences also highlight the remarkable resilience and strength that individuals in this community harness, embodying a spirit that can inspire so many others with more awareness.  

 

The Assistive Devices Program - What is Helpful and Where the Gaps Remain 

 

Ontario’s assistive devices program (ADP) helps to cover the cost of assistive devices and specialized supplies for individuals with a long-term disability. Individuals qualifying for ADP must be an Ontario resident, have a valid health card, and have a disability that requires an assistive device for six months or longer.  

 

Individuals cannot qualify if they are receiving support from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board or a Group “A” veteran receiving financial support for equipment and supplies.  

 

The ADP helps to cover 75% of the cost and the individual is expected to cover the remaining 25%. Although a large portion is covered by ADP, paying the remaining 25% can create substantial financial strain for low-income families who would still need to pay thousands of dollars for highly expensive devices such as wheelchairs.  

 

There is also a substantial gap in the types of devices the ADP covers; they do not cover various form of equipment within mobility aids, hearing devices, respiratory supplies, prosthetics, orthotics, feeding pumps and more. For example, within mobility devices essential bathroom equipment like a commode is not covered. For a full list compiling what is and is not covered visit: https://www.ontario.ca/page/assistive-devices-program.  




 

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