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Best provinces for accessibility in Canada

man sitting in a wheel chair smiling and looking at laptop

While shopping for a home is challenging, to begin with, it can be even trickier to find one that’s accessible and caters to your needs.

We know how important independence is (especially at home), and your home should allow you to live the life you want. To help the six million Canadians who have at least one disability find the most accessible housing, we’ve ranked the Canadian provinces for accessibility based on affordability, health care and transportation.

We’ve also recognized stand-out cities that are highly affordable, have received praise for accessibility, or publicly improve living standards for their citizens with disabilities. Before moving forward, let’s look at the state of accessibility and disability in Canada. 

Disability in Canada

chart visualizing types of disability in Canada

Accessible housing isn’t one size fits all. Many different types of disabilities impact individuals and influence what defines a barrier. By defining the different types of disabilities prevalent in Canada, we identified standards of living and relevant requirements to incorporate into our ranking factors.  

The most common types of disabilities among adults in Canada are pain, flexibility, mobility and mental health, though many other types impact our rankings. We’ve defined them below:

  • Pain-related disabilities are the most common and are identified as impairments that limit a person’s activity due to constant and/or recurring pain. According to Statistics Canada, 14.5% of the Canadian population lives with a pain-related disability and approximately half of those with chronic pain report having symptoms for more than 10 years
  • Flexibility-related disabilities are the second most common and are identified as an impairment that limits a person’s ability to bend down and pick up an object or reach in any direction. The likelihood of having a flexibility disability increases with age — they’re experienced by 1% of adults and 19.3% of those aged 65 and older. 
  • Mobility-related disabilities are the third most common type of disability and are identified as an impairment that limits a person through upper or lower limb loss, manual dexterity and coordination with different organs of the body.
  • Canadians with mental health-related disabilities make up 7.2% of the whole population. Mental health disabilities are identified as an impairment that limits a person because of an emotional, psychological or mental health condition. Four out of five Canadians who have a mental health-related disability also have at least one other type of disability. Women are twice as likely as men to have a mental health-related disability.
  • This is followed by disabilities related to seeing (5.4% of the total population), hearing (4.8% of the total population), dexterity (4.6% of the total population), learning (3.9% of the total population) and memory (3.8% of the total population). Developmental disabilities are the least prevalent type for Canadians, affecting approximately 1.1% of the total population.

Main findings: 10 provinces ranked by accessibility in Canada

chart ranking the top provinces for accessibility in Canada

We compared the 10 Canadian provinces across 11 key indicators of accessibility. Our data set covered accessible transit and walkability scores, the number of doctors and hospitals per capita, median annual income and housing costs. For specific ranking factors jump to our methodology section below. 

To be cognizant that individuals with mild to severe disabilities are 28% more likely to live in poverty than those without a disability, less likely to be employed and are more likely living off lower wages, we weighted factors indicating affordability heavily when ranking the provinces. 

We also included ranking factors around available federal and provincial tax credits and grants available for home renovations and financial support. Many individuals with a disability don’t shop for homes already renovated for their needs, rather they shop for homes with the least amount of modifications necessary. When modifications are necessary, federal and provincial tax credits and grants can help mitigate the costs.

Below are the provinces ranked in order of best to worst for accessibility. To begin, Nova Scotia ranked best out of our study. 

nova scotia accessible housing chart

The cost of living in Nova Scotia is one of the lowest in Canada. In July 2020, the average value of a home in Nova Scotia was $289,243, compared to $571,500 for all of Canada. 

The percentage of the population living in Nova Scotia with a disability is 25.90%, the highest among all the provinces. The average income of people with disabilities is 74.40% that of people without disabilities, the third highest rate across the nation. 

The province has the second highest access and transit scores per capita and one of the highest rates of physicians, physicians specializing in treating people with disabilities and hospitals per capita. 

Halifax 

Halifax, Nova Scotia’s largest city, has seen advancements in accessible transportation and attractions. 100 percent of Halifax Transit buses are accessible low floor (ALF) models and all of Halifax Transit’s ferries are accessible. Halifax has one of the highest transit and access scores in the province at 63 and 60. 

newfoundland and labrador accessible housing chart

Newfoundland and Labrador follows closely behind in rankings at second best for accessibility. The province has the highest number of both doctors and hospitals per capita, as well as a high accessibility and transit score per capita but lacks in available funding support.  

That being said, what the province might lack in programs and financial support, it makes up for with a low cost of living and high quality of life. Immigration applications are up by 136% since 2017 as more and more Canadians are relocating to the province. 

St. John

According to CBC News, the mayor of St. John says the city is working to improve accessibility in public places such as malls, parks and downtown areas. Due to the recent increase in outside entertainment and dining, the city is committed to adding more ramps, patios, accessible parking spaces and wash rooms, and an overall improvement of public infrastructure to be barrier-free. 

PEI accessible housing chart

Prince Edward Island ranks in the top three for accessibility due to low average housing costs and high income levels. PEI has the second highest score for affordable housing costs and an average income for people with disabilities at 73.30% of people without disabilities. PEI’s employment rate is several points above the national average at roughly 11.7% and offers a wide range of support services for people with disabilities, including affordable housing, community and caregivers. 

Charlottetown

The low cost of housing, combined with the relatively small size of the city makes Charlottetown one of the most affordable places to live in Canada. 

new brunswick accessible housing chart

New Brunswick has the lowest housing costs across the nation but also has the lowest median annual income. The average home cost in New Brunswick in June 2020 was $199,327. Whether or not individuals can afford that price range, the province offers almost $176,446 in public funding to each individual in the form of home repair grants, extended benefits and home energy assistance programs. 

Fredericton and Saint John

Both Fredericton and Saint John were rated two of the most affordable areas in Canada by the 16th annual International Housing Affordability Survey. With a low unemployment rate, economic stability, affordable housing and a great quality of life, both cities are very desirable places to live when you have a disability. 

manitoba accessible housing chart

Manitoba measured somewhat evenly for all ranking factors but stood out with the highest average income of people with disabilities at 76.50% that of people without disabilities. For Canada’s fifth-most populous province, the area offers upwards of $6,471,031,295 to people with disabilities for home renovation and financial support. 

Winnipeg

According to Expatistan, Winnipeg is not only the third most affordable Canadian city to live in, but it’s also more affordable than 81% of all cities in North America. Monthly rent for a furnished studio apartment can cost anywhere between $940 to $1,259 per month whereas a furnished home would cost about $1,278 to $1,483 for rent each month. 

ontario accessible housing chart

When weighing Ontario for accessibility, what the province lacks with high housing prices it makes up with available tax benefits and grants for people with disabilities. Ontario’s housing programs and initiatives makes over $100,000 available to each Ontario citizen who has a disability, offering funding in home renovation, vehicle modification, low-income support and assistance for children with disabilities. 

Windsor 

While Windsor might not be a bustling metropolitan like Toronto, this city of about 200,000 people hosts various events and attractions that are highly accessible by walking and transit. Windsor also has numerous programs dedicated to advancing accessible transportation

Thunder Bay

Like Windsor, the city of Thunder Bay’s programs and initiatives point to the city as an attractive province for people with disabilities. The District of Thunder Bay Social Services Administration Board (TBDSSAB) provides a wide variety of affordable housing programs for residents.

British Columbia accessible housing chart

With one of the lowest cost of living scores and second highest total financial support available, the province of British Columbia has made impactful strides towards enhancing its accessibility. 

The volunteer group Barrier-Free BC is credited for its significant advances in accessibility-friendly legislation. The group’s original purpose was to use the momentum after the Accessibility 2024 plan to enact a Disability Act for British Columbia as a counterpart to the AODA Alliance. They were successful when the British Columbia Accessibility Act was enacted in 2018.

Vancouver

Vancouver has a reputation as one of the most accessible cities in the world for travellers with disabilities, yet it’s one of the most expensive housing markets in the nation. With a high accessibility score of 80 and transit score of 74, Vancouver leads the way in making the region a more livable and accessible place for people with disabilities. For those who use wheelchairs, white canes, seeing eye dogs or hearing aids, Vancouver and surrounding rural areas offer many disability-friendly and culturally diverse attractions. Many parks outside of the area offer accessible features such as adaptive recreation equipment, trail systems and universal-design considerations. 

Victoria

Victoria is also an accessible city in British Columbia. Public buildings have ramps, properly equipped washrooms and automatic doors. The Victoria Disability Resource Centre (VDRC) is a not-for-profit organization run by and for people with disabilities. They work closely with people who have a disability and various community organizations to find and remove barriers that prevent full participation in life.

saskatchewan accessible housing chart

While Saskatchewan has one of the highest median income levels across the provinces, cost of living is the second highest in the nation. That being said, in relation to other metropolitan cities in Canada, housing costs are much lower. Unlike other provinces, there are no personal premiums or charges for basic and needed health care services. Saskatchewan sales tax rates are competitive at 6% which is the lowest of any province that charges sales tax. The employment rate for the population with a disability is one of the highest at almost 61 percent. 

Weyburn

Weyburn is the 10th largest city in Saskatchewan and is known as “the opportunity city” because it is among the fastest growing cities in Canada. In 2018, It was named by MoneySense as the best place to live in the Prairies because of affordability, high employment rates, economic growth and quality of life.

quebec accessible housing chart

Quebec is ranked ninth for accessibility due to the province’s high housing costs, low median household income and lowest percentage of population with a disability (13.40 percent). The lowest province’s accessibility and a transit score per capita ranked second to last and income compared to people with disabilities was the lowest.

On the other hand, Quebec ranked third highest for total tax credit and grant funding available to citizens. 

Montreal 

Although Montreal’s living and housing costs surpass the average citizen’s affordability, accessibility and travel standards in Montreal are improving. With increased investment in accessible transportation and infrastructure, wheelchair accessibility in Montreal is advancing for its population with disabilities. 

alberta accessible housing chart

Alberta ranked last for accessibility among the 10 provinces. While Alberta ranked highest for median annual income, the percent share for people with disabilities was the lowest. 

Edmonton

When determining whether a city is accessible many look for programming, job opportunities and employment services available. While a city like Fort McMurray ranks high for affordability, cities Calgary and Edmonton offer more publicly funded employment services for people with disabilities. Finding a city that provides support for overcoming barriers in employment via job search, workplace and educational resources can increase opportunities for people with disabilities. 

From Nova Scotia to Alberta, we’ve ranked the provinces for accessibility as well as highlighted stand-out cities that are leading the way with accessibility friendly initiatives. In order to successfully rank the provinces on accessibility, we also analyzed guidelines and ethics set in Canada to learn more about accessibility laws — read on to learn more. 

An overview of accessibility laws in Canada 

overview of accessibility laws in Canada

Canada has seen more advancements in the last decade than ever before. Lawmakers have consistently written legislation that bans discrimination against people with mental and physical disabilities, however, it was previously grouped in with legislation against discrimination towards ethnicity and gender.

Let’s take a look at the history of accessibility-related laws.

  • The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982): Part of the Canadian Constitution, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects citizens’ basic rights and freedoms. It bans discrimination against specific groups, including people with a mental or physical disability.
  • The Canadian Human Rights Act (1985): The purpose of this law is to ensure equal opportunity for individuals and prevent discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, religion, age and disability. 
  • The Employment Equity Act (1995): This was enacted to ensure that no person is denied employment opportunities or benefits for reasons unrelated to performance.
  • Provincial human rights legislation: Every province and territory has a human rights commission. These organizations exist to educate people about their rights and to provide recourse if someone’s rights are violated. 

Status of new and upcoming accessibility laws

Now let’s look at the newest and proposed provincial and federal laws that play a role in the future of accessibility in Canada. People with disabilities, organizations and advocacy groups helped establish many of these regulations. 

  • Quebec | Act to secure handicapped persons in the exercise of their rights with a view to achieving social, school and workplace integration (2004): Quebec’s provincial law was one of the first of its kind. That being said, unlike laws enacted in other provinces, the Act only applies to the public sector and doesn’t include goals or penalties to ensure compliance. 
  • Ontario | The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) (2005): The AODA is a provincial law that established a process for developing and enforcing accessibility standards that government, businesses, nonprofits and public sector organizations must follow. People with disabilities and industry representatives worked together with the government to develop communication, transportation, design of public spaces and employment, among others. The establishment of the AODA set an example for other provinces. 
  • New Brunswick | Barrier-Free Design Building Code Regulation (2011): The Government of New Brunswick committed to modernizing and enhancing provincial building standards to improve accessibility for all New Brunswickers, regardless of their physical abilities. 
  • Manitoba | The Accessibility for Manitobans Act (2013): The Accessibility for Manitobans Act was created through the Government of Manitoba’s commitment to achieving significant progress by 2023, making the province more inclusive for everyone. The Manitoba Government worked with community representatives, as well as public and private sector organizations to develop accessibility standards. 
  • National Building Code of Canada (2015): The 2015 edition made updates to accessibility and associated design requirements. Manitoba, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan adopted the 2010 National Building Code under provincial acts. 
  • Nova Scotia | The Nova Scotia Accessibility Act (2017): The Nova Scotia Accessibility Act, also known as Bill 59, is similar to the Accessibility for Manitobans Act. It was enacted to further support the rights of people with disabilities under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • British Columbia | Accessibility 2024 Plan (2014) and the British Columbia Accessibility Act, also known as Bill M 219 (2018): In 2014, the British Columbia government released “Accessibility 2024,” a 10-year plan for making the area the most progressive province in Canada for people with disabilities. Commitments made included increasing provincial disability benefit rates, modernizing guides and service programs, and establishing an accessibility lens on regulations and legislation, among others. In 2018, four years after the plan was revealed, B.C. proposed the British Columbia Accessibility Act, also known as Bill M 219. The act’s purpose was to support the Accessibility 2024 Plan by preventing and removing barriers in the delivery and receipt of goods and services, information and communication, public transportation and transportation infrastructure, employment, and education. 
  • Saskatchewan | Disability Strategy (2018): The Disability Strategy looks to address and identify the support and service needs of children and adults with disabilities in Saskatchewan, whether physical, sensory, psychiatric, cognitive or intellectual. 
  • The Accessible Canada Act (Bill C-81) (2018): In June of 2018, Canada’s first federal accessibility legislation, the Accessible Canada Act (Bill C-81), received unanimous support in the House of Commons to ensure a barrier-free Canada and enhance the full and equal participation of all people, especially those with disabilities, in society. The purpose of this Act was to develop federal legislation that ensures greater inclusion of Canadians with the removal of barriers in employment, the built environment, information and communication technologies, the procurement of goods, and services and transportation. The Act was passed by the Senate, with amendments, on May 13, 2019.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador | Accessibility Legislation Engagement Process (2019): Spanning from January 24 to March 6, 2019, Newfoundland and Labrador used a public engagement process to gain input about accessibility legislation. Participants indicated a need to clarify how the Human Rights Act and accessibility legislation would interact. 

Methodology

To determine the most accessible provinces for people with disabilities, we compared the 10 provinces across a total score of 11 metrics. Each metric was graded on a 10-point scale (10 representing the best conditions) and assigned a weight to calculate each province’s overall score.

Below is how we sourced these factors and weighted each item:

Average house prices in Canada — Weighted Rank 5%

  • Average house prices in Canada by province were sourced from Statista.

Median annual household income  — Weighted Rank 5%

  • Each province’s median annual household income was sourced from Statistics Canada

Cost of living by province  — Weighted Rank 5%

  • The cost of living by province was sourced from Statistics Canada and is representative of the Consumer Price Index for June of 2020.

Percentage of provincial population with disability — Weighted Rank 5%

Income of people with disabilities (disposable income of people with disabilities as a share of income of people without disabilities, percent) — Weighted Rank 10%

  • Income of people with disabilities (disposable income of people with disabilities as a share of income of people without disabilities, percent) was sourced from The Conference Board of Canada.

Averaged Transit Score and Access Score per capita — Weighted Rank 20%

  • The Average Transit Score and Access Score were calculated by averaging scores from each city, combining totals, and dividing by population. Zolo used Walk Score’s Walkability Score as an Access Score to represent how accessible and close in proximity amenities are in each province. Walk Score does not require an individual to be mobile-able to access locations but removes distance as a barrier for access. This Access Score was not used to rank the provinces but was averaged with Transit Score and divided by population. 

Total physicians per capita, 2019 — Weighted Rank 5%

Total physicians per capita who specialize in Ophthalmology, Psychiatry, Neurology, Occupational, and Otolaryngology, 2019 — Weighted Rank 10%

  • Total physicians per capita who specialize in Ophthalmology, Psychiatry, Neurology, Occupational, and Otolaryngology were sourced from the Canadian Medical Association.

Number of hospitals in Canada as of 2019, by province and employment size  — Weighted Rank 5%

  • Number of hospitals in Canada were sourced from Statista. 

Total number of accessible parking spots per 100 spots at public buildings — Weighted Rank 10%

  • Total number of accessible parking spots per 100 spots at public buildings were individually sourced from provincial government websites.

Total tax credits and grants for people with a disability — Weighted Rank 20%

  • The total tax credits and grants for people with a disability was sourced and calculated by gathering the sum amount of government-funded financial support by province multiplied by the amount of population with a disability.

Sources:

Statistics Canada | Statista | The Conference Board of Canada | Walk Score | Canadian Medical Association | City of Oshawa | Government of Montreal | Government of British Columbia | Safety Codes Council of Alberta | Government of Manitoba |City of Saskatoon | Government of Nova Scotia | Government of New Brunswick | Government of Newfoundland and Labrador | Government of Prince Edward IslandCounty of Simcoe | March of Dimes Canada | Government of Ontario | Government of Canada | Government of Quebec | Revenu Quebec | British Columbia Housing | Government of British Columbia | Government of Alberta | Government of Manitoba | Government of Saskatchewan | Government of Nova Scotia | Government of New Brunswick | Mobility Basics | Government of Newfoundland and Labrador | Canada Learning Bond

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Romana King

Romana King is an award-winning personal finance writer, real estate expert and the current Director of Content at Zolo Homebase. Romana has contributed to business and lifestyle publications including CBC.ca, Toronto Sun, Maclean’s, MoneySense, Globe & Mail Custom Content Team, and The Toronto Star. Among her achievements, Romana won silver for her annual Where to Buy Now real estate package in the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. In 2015, she won a SABEW Business Journalism award. When she was editor of CI Top Broker, Romana helped guide her team to obtain its first KRW Business Journalism nomination, and in 2011, she was part of a small team that helped MoneySense win Magazine of the Year at the 34th annual National Magazine Awards. Her north star is to consistently provide actionable, valuable and accurate information that helps elevate the financial literacy of everyone.