Access to healthcare for people with disabilities in Canada

Approximately one out of five people in Canada has a disability. According to the Canadian Disability Policy Alliance, people with disabilities face several challenges in health care settings. Some of them are attitudinal, systematic, physical and expertise barriers. More than 32% of disabled people face physical challenges while accessing health care facilities. The blind and those with low vision find it difficult to walk into large hospitals without someone to guide them. Those with physical disabilities such as inability to walk have to seek private transport, which is costly, to go for appointments. Accessible public transport may not lead them to the desired destination.

People with disabilities also face negative attitudes from health practitioners. Some of them perceive dealing with people with disabilities as challenging. Others are not willing to attend to people with chronic pains and mental conditions that take time to heal. They are not ready to invest their time in the patient. A survey conducted in Toronto revealed that 20% of health practitioners attribute an ailment with the disability.

The deaf has a hard time expressing themselves to doctors who are not conversant with sign language. They also find it hard to communicate with staff face to face and also on the phone. Lack of clear communication can lead to improper diagnosis and incorrect treatment. Doctors should ensure they have an interpreter who can translate sign language. The deaf also has challenges understanding instructions during physical examination. This leads to mistrust and fear among them.

In the next 10 years, it is estimated that the number of elderly people will increase by 50%. It is therefore important to construct hospitals that allow the aged including those with walking sticks, crutches and wheelchairs to walk around easily. The aged have expressed concerns over the scarcity of medical practitioners who conversant with geriatrics.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention outlines several recommendations for healthcare facilities. First, the windows and the counters should be low enough to make it easy for people with disabilities to access them. Secondly, videos on websites should have a written version or a caption for people with hearing disorders. Thirdly, hallways should be free from equipment that hinders movement. Also, health care practitioners should be conversant with sign language or should be close to someone who can interpret it. The alarms should be loud enough. Finally, printed materials should be large for people with low vision to be able to read. Most hospitals in Canada do not follow these recommendations.


Sullivan, William F., et al. “Primary care of adults with developmental disabilities: Canadian consensus guidelines.” Canadian Family Physician 57.5 (2011): 541-553.

Gulley, Stephen P., and Barbara M. Altman. “Disability in two health care systems: access, quality, satisfaction, and physician contacts among working-age Canadians and Americans with disabilities.” Disability and Health Journal 1.4 (2008): 196-208.

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