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Posted June 3, 2008
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Assistive Aids

Participation and Activity Limitation Survey: Assistive aids and devices for adults 2006

Roughly 6 out of every 10 Canadian adults aged 15 and over with disabilities used or needed technical aids or specialized equipment to help them perform one or more daily activities in 2006.

New data from the 2006 Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS) show that just over 4.2 million people (16.6%) aged 15 and over had some form of disability.

An estimated 2.7 million people, or about 63% of this total, used or needed technical aids or specialized equipment to help them perform one or more daily activities.

Data showed that 61.3% of this population of 2.7 million had all the equipment they needed, that is, all their needs were met. About 28.9% used such equipment but needed more aids, while 9.9% had none of the equipment required.

PALS data also showed that adults who had the most severe disabilities were the least likely to have all their needs met for such aids or equipment. Individuals with a learning limitation such as dyslexia had more unmet needs for assistive devices than individuals with any other disability.

Respondents to the survey cited the cost of purchasing or maintaining assistive devices as the most frequent reason for unmet needs.

The use of specialized equipment is important because it can offset barriers to full participation in everyday activities by reducing the impact of barriers and activity limitations.

Even with assistive technology, slightly more than half of all people with disabilities (50.8%) experienced difficulty participating in everyday activities at least once per week or more as a result of their activity limitation.

Differences depending on the severity of the disability
The severity of a disability revealed some important differences as the level of met needs for technical equipment decreased as severity increased.

PALS data showed that an estimated 511,670 people had very severe disabilities and needed assistive aids. Of this group, 41.3% had all of the assistive technology they needed, compared with 75.9% of individuals with a mild disability.

More than half of (51.9%) of those with the most severe disabilities had some needs met, compared with 12.9% of the group with mild disabilities.

People with very severe disabilities were the only group in which the proportion of people with some met needs was higher than the proportion whose need were met completely.

On the other hand, people with the most severe disabilities were less likely to have none of their needs met, compared with individuals with mild or moderate degrees of disability.

There was minimal variation among the provinces in the reporting of having all needs met for assistive devices or aids. On the other hand, the three territories were below the national average in terms of their residents having all of their needs met.

Level of needs met vary with different types of disabilities

The level of needs that had been met varied considerably across the different types of disabilities. Requirements and use were not the same across all disabilities.

Individuals using equipment specific to mobility, vision and pain limitations were among the most likely to report having all the equipment they needed. In 2006, 7 out of 10 respondents aged 15 and over with these limitations reported that their needs had been met.

Although relatively small in absolute numbers, 7 out of 10 respondents with communication disabilities (18,800) had none of the technical equipment or aids they required.

Age also affected the likelihood of needs being met. Seniors aged 65 and over were the most likely to have all the equipment they needed (68.3%). This proportion fell to about 56% for both people 40 to 64 and those aged 15 to 39.

There were no differences for all needs being met based on gender as the proportions for men and women were almost identical.

People with learning disabilities used on average 3.8 different types of assistive technology, more than any other type of disability. People with mobility limitations used 2.5 aids, the second highest average.

There was little variation between the average numbers of unmet needs across various disabilities. People with learning disabilities needed on average 1.6 assistive devices, compared with 1.4 aids needed by people with communication limitations.

Cost cited most frequently as reason for unmet needs for assistive devices

PALS results showed that most people with disabilities (or their immediate family) paid for the assistive devices themselves. For people with disabilities, this can be a major expense. Costs of assistive technology can vary from a few dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.

The cost of purchasing or maintaining assistive devices was the most frequently cited reason for unmet needs, accounting for 56.1% of all unmet needs for assistive devices.

Not knowing where to get the assistive device accounted for 9.2% of all unmet needs.

There was considerable variation within the specific disability types in terms of the reasons for unmet needs. Cost was the most common reason, ranging from a low of 38.0% for people with seeing limitations to a high of 70.3% for people with pain limitations.

Children and assistive aids and devices

The latter half of this report focuses exclusively on children aged 5 to 14 who had an activity limitation and used assistive aids and devices.

In 2006, 90,480 children in this age group used or needed assistive technology to help them participate in their daily activities. This total represented slightly more than one-half (51.8%) of the 174,810 children with disabilities in that age group in Canada.

The survey found that less than one-half (45.3%) of all children's needs for assistive technology were met completely.

One-quarter (24.6%) had none of the assistive technology they needed, while the remaining (30.1%) had some of the equipment they required, but needed more.

The most commonly cited reason for children not having the aids they needed was cost. More than one-half (56.6%) of respondents nationally stated cost was the main reason for unmet needs.

As was the case with adult respondents, PALS data showed that the burden of paying for a child's aids mostly fell on the child's parents and/or family members. Nationally, 21.4% of assistive devices were paid for through public funds such as the health care system or other government programs.

Of all children with disabilities who reported some unmet needs, 46.7% had a very severe disability. The number of children with partially met needs increased as the degree of severity increased.

Note to readers

This is the third in a series of releases on data from The 2006 Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS).

This report contains survey results on specialized equipment and aids for children aged 5 to 14 and adults 15 and older with disabilities. The main themes it explores are the use and requirements of such aids and equipment, funding sources, and related obstacles.

The first results, published in December 2007, examined the prevalence, type and severity of disability, by age and sex. The second results, published in May 2008, explored the educational experiences of Canadian children with activity limitations. Information on issues such as employment and income will be released later in 2008.

The survey was designed to collect information on adults and children with disabilities, that is, whose everyday activities are restricted because of a health condition or other limitation.

Funded by Human Resources and Social Development Canada and carried out by Statistics Canada, PALS provides essential information on the prevalence of different disabilities, the types of support available to people with disabilities, their employment profile, income and participation in social activities.


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