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Feature Issue: Overview of Seniors and Disability

Just the Numbers

Did you know that in 2006, over 71,000 Manitoba seniors (aged 65+) living in the community had a disability? And that's not counting the many thousands of seniors who lived on First Nations or in institutional settings. If all Manitobans were included, it is estimated the number of seniors with a disability in 2006 would have been 77,860.

This represents almost one in every two seniors who lived in the province in 2006. Among seniors in the community between the ages of 65 and 74, 36% had a disability. The figure for those 75 years of age and over was even higher – 60%. In contrast, less than 5% of Manitobans under the age of 25, less than 10% of those between the ages of 25 and 44, and about 20% of persons between the ages of 45 to 64 had a disability respectively.

Bar Chart on Disability Rates by Age

Disability or Just Aging?

The numbers reported above are based on the findings from the 2006 Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS) that was conducted by Statistics Canada. The odd thing is that many seniors who were counted probably would not say they had a disability – they were never asked that. Instead, the 2006 PALS asked them if they had difficulty hearing, seeing, communicating, walking, climbing stairs, bending, learning or doing similar activities. They were also asked if a physical or mental condition or a health problem reduced the amount of activity they could do at home, school, work – or in areas like transportation and leisure.

It was answers to these functional questions, not to the "do you have a disability?" question, that were used as the basis to determine if they had a disability. Sadly, there are such negative connotations associated with the word "disability" that many, seniors included, would not use that term. Rather, many seniors see their limitations as a normal part of the aging process. Indeed, the limitations are, but they are also what many others, including governments, courts and human rights commissions, consider to be a disability. That's right – disability is not about age; it's about whether or not a person's full and effective participation, at any age, is limited by barriers that deny them equal access because of their health or their physical, mental or intellectual condition.

Barriers to Accessibility Faced by Seniors

The best information we have on the barriers to accessibility faced by Manitoban seniors comes from the Age-Friendly Manitoba Initiative ( As part of this initiative, consultations were held in communities across Manitoba with seniors and persons concerned about seniors issues. The consultations focused on changes needed in communities to support seniors in leading more active, socially engaged and independent lives. Surveys were used as part of these consultations which took place in a total of 46 communities over the last three years. Over 1,100 persons completed one of the surveys.

Perhaps not surprisingly, seniors with accessibility issues identified many, if not most, of the same barriers as have been identified by other Manitobans with a disability.

General Priorities

Participants were asked to identify their top five priorities for issues that urgently needed to be addressed to make their communities more age-friendly. Researchers from the University of Manitoba's Centre on Aging ( then created categories of issues. In total, the 46 communities identified 293 priorities or an average of just over six per community.

More than half (54% or 159) of most urgent priorities related directly or indirectly to accessibility and disability issues. The table below lists these issues in exactly the same categories as reported in the research findings ( and the number of communities that identified each category.

Issue Identified

No. of



Accessible sidewalks




Accessibility issues


Accessible bathrooms


Building accessibility/washrooms


Building accessibility/handicap parking


Building accessibility


Building accessibility/public washrooms


Building accessibility/sidewalks


Building accessibility/washrooms








Communication/social inclusion








Information accessibility




 Outdoor spaces and buildings


 Public washrooms/Accessibility




 Sidewalks and road safety








 Sidewalks/road crossings


 Sidewalks/road maintenance






 Sidewalks/snow removal


 Sidewalks/street maintenance






 Social Inclusion








 Streets/sidewalks/walking paths




 Transportation options


 Walking paths/bike paths


 Walking trails/benches


 Wheelchair/handicap access





Fourteen of different communities identified "building/accessible washrooms" as one of the priorities that need to be urgently addressed while another 12 of the priority categories included the terms "access ," accessible" or "accessibility." Twelve of the communities identified "sidewalks/streets" while another 11 priority categories included the term "sidewalk."

The specific priority categories most often identified by communities were "transportation" (29 communities) and "housing (27 communities), both of which are frequent challenges for many Manitobans with a disability.

Specific Types of Barriers

The surveys also asked participants to either agree or disagree with over 50 statements about positive 'age-friendly' aspects of their communities. Agreeing with the statement indicated participants felt that the community already had the positive feature. Disagreeing with the statement indicated that participants found this feature lacking in their respective communities. In short, the greater share of participants who disagreed with a statement, the greater the indication that it is a problem in Manitoba.

The following table shows the percent of participants who disagreed with 18 of the statements included in the survey. The percentages are based only on those participants who either agreed or disagreed with the statement and the statements are listed from the lowest percent to the highest percent of participants disagreeing with them.

Age-Friendly Feature

Percent Disagreeing

The road signs are easy to read and large enough for older drivers.


Snow clearing is done in a timely manner so walking and driving is safe.


There is enough assistance available for completing official forms (e.g., help with filling out government or income tax forms).


Official, written information, such as forms or brochures is easy to read and understand (e.g., large print, clear language).


The transportation that is available for individuals with disabilities (e.g., Handi-Van) is sufficient


There are enough “handicap” parking spaces close to services and stores.


There are sidewalks linking residences and essential services in most or all areas of my community.


Local parks or walking trails are accessible and easy to use for seniors (e.g., paths with even surfaces).


There are enough street crosswalks in busy business areas.


The services that help seniors around the home (e.g., snow removal, lawn care, garbage brought to the street) are sufficient.


There are enough street crosswalks in busy residential and/or recreation areas.


Most or all businesses and public buildings are easily accessible to everybody (e.g., have wheelchair ramps, automatic doors).


Sidewalks in most or all areas of my community are well maintained (even surfaces or paved, not a lot of cracks).


There are enough resting areas with benches along paths or trails.


The job opportunities in my neighbourhood accommodate the needs of seniors (e.g., part-time work is available).


Public telephone answering services are adapted to the needs of seniors (e.g., instructions are given clearly and slowly).


Public washrooms accommodate people with wheelchairs


There is enough housing that meets the needs of seniors.



As indicated at the beginning of this section, these are the very types of issues that also create barriers to accessibility for other Manitobans with a disability.

What of the Future?

As many are already aware, we are in the first stage of a major demographic shift related to the aging of Manitoba's population. The fact that seniors are not only the most likely of all Manitobans to have a disability, but also the fastest growing segment of the population will have a significant impact for the province in the near to middle term.

Based on current projections, Manitoba's total population is projected to grow by almost 28% between 2006 and 2031. The number of persons with disabilities, in contrast, is projected to grow by almost 50% over these same years.

Bar Chart on Projected Growth Rates of Reference Populations

The high projected growth rate in the number of Manitobans with disabilities will not be uniform across age groups. Indeed, the number of non-seniors with a disability is projected to grow by only 16%. The number of seniors with a disability, on the other hand, is projected to grow by over 90%.

While the projected disability population growth rates are interesting, the absolute numbers are striking. As shown in the figure below, there will be absolute increases in the number of Manitobans with a disability in each of the age groups. For example, the number of children with a disability under the age of 5 is projected to grow from 1,309 to 1,686 (377 persons) between 2006 and 2031. Larger increases are projected for the other age groups. The number of adults aged 45 to 64 with a disability is projected to grow from 60,889 to 69,449 or by 8,551 persons.

By all comparisons, the projected growth in the number of seniors is remarkable. By 2031, it is projected that there will be almost 150,000 seniors with a disability living in Manitoba, a very sharp increase from77,860 in 2006 (over 71,542 more individuals).

Bar Chart on Growth in Numbers of Persons with Disabilities By Age Group


As this overview suggests, seniors with a disability face a wide range of barriers that limit accessibility and, therefore, participation in their communities. These barriers, in most cases, seem to be the same or very similar to the barriers to accessibility faced by other Manitobans with a disability.

The major differences between seniors and non-seniors with a disability relate to numbers. Almost half of Manitoba seniors in 2006 had a disability. This compares to much smaller shares of non-seniors – less than 2% for children under the age of 5 have a disability.

The other major difference in numbers relates to the future. Between 2006 and 2031, the number of Manitobans with a disability will grow by 48% or just over 88,000 persons. Of that growth, the number of persons with a disability under the age of 65 will have increased by almost 16,900. The number of seniors with a disability will have grown by over 71,000 persons.

As a final note, while the timely removal of barriers to accessibility, as would occur under the legislation proposed by Barrier-Free Manitoba, will benefit all Manitobans, it promises to provide disproportionate benefits to today's seniors (and their families). Through time, more and more Manitobans will benefit, including the very large number of persons who, through aging, will find that they are no longer as mobile or agile as they once were and that their hearing, seeing and memories are no longer as acute.