What does poverty look like in the disability community?

Through CCD's research project Disabling Poverty/Enabling Citizenship, Cam Crawford and Ernie Lightman have been undertaking research which will develop a clearer understanding of poverty as it is experienced by people with disabilities. Some preliminary findings from their research are as follows:


  • Overall, people with disabilities are twice as likely as people without to be in households with low incomes. People with disabilities who live in rural communities, however, are half as likely as their urban counterparts to live in poverty.
  • Somewhat surprisingly, there are no major differences in the extent to which women vs. men with disabilities live on low incomes. 21.3% women with disabilities are in households with low incomes and among their male counterparts, 19.6%.
  • The high rate of poverty among people with disabilities remains high throughout the working years, but drops significantly and remains low in the retirement years. Government programs for seniors seemingly play a role in reducing poverty among seniors with disabilities.
  • Aboriginal persons with disabilities are much more likely than people who are neither from visible minorities nor Aboriginal persons to live in poverty.
  • Rates of low income are very high among lone parents with disabilities and among people with disabilities who live alone or with unrelated others.
  • As the level of formal educational certification increases, the extent of poverty among people with disabilities decreases. Higher educational attainment, however, does not remove the likelihood of poverty among people with disabilities, which remains considerably higher than for people without disabilities irrespective of level of educational certification. Those who have access to work-related training are much less likely to be living on low household incomes than people who have not received such training.
  • Even where working, people with disabilities are more likely than people without to have low incomes. Where they are unemployed or not in the labor force, the rates of low income among people with disabilities are higher still. About a third of people with disabilities who live on low household incomes last worked over a year ago or have never worked.
  • Among those who are working, the rates of poverty are lowest where the employer operates at more than one location, has 500 or more employees and where the workforce is unionized or otherwise covered by a collective agreement. Only about a fifth of workers with disabilities are in such employment situations.
  • People who have recently been active in the labor force and who consider that they have been discriminated against in employment because of disability are nearly twice as likely to be in low-income households as people who do not believe they have been subjected to employment discrimination.
  • The likelihood of living on low household income increases with the severity of disability. Among people with disabilities in low-income situations, more than half have a severe to very severe level of disability compared with only slightly more than a third of those who are not living in low-income households.
  • People with disabilities who are in low-income households are more likely to say they need help with everyday activities because of disability and that they receive only some or none of the help they require.
  • Nearly half (49%) of people with disabilities and low incomes report their general health as fair or poor, compared with only about a third (32.9%) who are not in low-income households.

CCD's objective with the Disabling Poverty/Enabling Citizenship research project is to develop a case for specific policies and programs which will lift people with disabilities out of poverty. If you would like to read the full demographics report and/or reports from the other themes, please visit the project's web page.

Project researchers will share additional information at End Exclusion 2010.