The economic benefits of a fully accessible and inclusive Canada

In brief

  • If Canada were a fully accessible and inclusive society, the economic benefits would amount to about $337.7 billion in calendar year 2017.
  • This amount is equal to about 17.6 per cent of the gross domestic product in that year.

Published: November 2021

Why was this study done?

Despite progress to date, persons with disabilities still face discrimination and other barriers to full participation in society. They have lower employment rates, lower earnings, lower education attainment, lower life satisfaction, higher poverty rates and higher health-care use. What would be the economic benefits if these barriers were removed? No study has estimated the economic benefits of a fully inclusive and accessible society. This study aimed to develop a framework for estimating these benefits across a broad range of domains and implementing it for the Canadian context.

How was the study done?

The study involved three steps commonly used in economic burden studies. In the first step, the research team identified key domains based on a literature review and a discussion with experts to inform the development of a conceptual framework. In the second step, the team estimated the monetary impacts of each domain, based on the literature and various sources of public data. In the third step, the team ran sensitivity analyses using different scenarios and considered a range of values for measures that had a high level of uncertainty. 

The conceptual framework developed in the first step consists of 14 domains that had unique and mutually exclusive impacts that would warrant consideration. These included: health-care expenses, out-of-pocket expenses, output and productivity, quality of life and social role engagement, life expectancy, informal caregiving, children with disabilities, human rights, transportation, tourism, general productivity, administration of social safety net programs, pensions and market multiplier effects. In each domain, the team identified benefits directly and indirectly accruing to various stakeholders. Direct benefits are those that directly accrue to persons with disabilities; indirect benefits, sometimes called spillover effects, accrue to persons without disabilities and other entities in society. The team made sure that benefits estimated within domains were distinct from each other; that is, they ensured the same benefits were not counted twice.

The team also decided that reduced government spending on social security benefits for persons with disabilities should not be included, as they do not reflect a loss or gain to society but simply a transfer of purchasing power. The team used 2017 as the reference year because the most recent Canadian Survey on Disability was administered that year.

What did the researchers find?

The benefits to Canadian society from full accessibility and inclusion of persons with disabilities amounted to $337.7 billion, or 17.6 per cent of the GDP, in the reference year 2017. Adjusting for various scenarios and assumptions, the estimates ranged from $252.8 billion to $422.7 billion, or 13.1 to 22.0 per cent of the GDP.

The largest portion of the benefits resulted from increases in quality of life and social role engagement, estimated at $132.2 billion (6.9 per cent of the GDP). This was followed by spillover effects at $76.7 billion (4.0 per cent of the GDP), increases in output and productivity at $62.2 billion (3.2 per cent of the GDP), market multiplier effects at $47.3 billion (2.5 per cent of the GDP), and averted health-care expenses at $19.4billion (1.0 per cent of the GDP).

What are the implications of the study?

This study sheds light on the substantial economic benefits that could be realized by Canadian society by moving toward greater inclusion. These benefits are not based on the premise that impairment and disability are eliminated—but rather on the premise that barriers to inclusion are. In keeping with other economic burden studies, this study did not examine the costs of removing those barriers—i.e., of implementing laws, regulations, policies and programs aimed at improving inclusion.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

This study offers a complex and multidimensional model that can be used to estimate the cost of exclusion or benefits of inclusion. Understanding the magnitude of the benefits of an accessible and inclusive society can help governments, community leaders, industry and other stakeholders evaluate goals and set priorities.

The search for appropriate data to provide a basis for estimating the benefits of each of the 14 domains revealed important gaps in data availability. These include data on the prevalence of disability among children 15 years and younger, life expectancy of persons with disabilities by disability type, quality of life and social role engagement of persons with disabilities, out-of-pocket expenses of persons with disabilities, and health-care expenses of persons with disabilities by disability.