What does disability mean to you?

The word "disability" has many meanings and uses in our society. A dictionary defines it as:

a condition that damages or limits a person's physical or mental ability; the condition of being unable to do things in the normal way; the condition of being disabled

It is easy to understand why "disability" carries a negative connotation to many. 

There are preferable synonyms such as "special needs" or "differently abled". My preference is to use the terms "dependent adult" or "dependent child". Those terms will be used unless referring to specific legislation or titles.

From a legal perspective the term "disability" is used in legislation such as the Ontario Disability Support Program Act. The purpose of this article is to examine the different criteria for defining "a person with a disability" in federal and provincial acts and regulations.

More information about government programs for the disabled >>

Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)

The Act  defines a “person with a disability” as having:

  • a continuous or recurrent substantial physical or mental impairment (on the person’s ability to care for oneself, function in the community and workplace) lasting one year or more;
  • which substantially restricts the person activities of daily living; and
  • the impairment, its duration and the restriction is verified by a qualified person.

A physician, physiotherapy, speech therapist or other health care professionals can sign the medical forms.

More information about the ODSP >>   

Federal Disability Tax Credit Certificate

A person with a disability can obtain a Disability Tax Credit Certificate (DTCC) from the federal government, providing them and their families with significant tax credits and retirements saving through the RDSP. To qualify the applicant must to establish the following requirements:

a) the individual has one or more severe and prolonged impairments in physical or mental functions;
b) the effects of the impairment or impairments are such that the individual is either:

  • markedly restricted in the ability to perform a basic activity of daily living or would be markedly restricted but for life-sustaining therapy (referred to in this Chapter as the markedly restricted requirement); or
  • significantly restricted in the ability to perform more than one basic activity of daily living and the cumulative effect of the significant restrictions is equivalent to being markedly restricted in the ability to perform a basic activity of daily living.

This criteria appears similar to the language used for the ODSP.

The DTCC allows the individual or another taxpayer to take advantage of the credits and deductions. It also permits a plan holder to purchase a Registered Disability Savings Plan for a beneficiary holding a DTCC.

Canada Pension Plan (CPP) Disability Benefit

This benefit is for a person who has contributed to the Canada Pension Plan. To qualify for a Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefit, you must:

  • have a severe and prolonged disability
  • be under the age of 65
  • meet the CPP contribution requirements.

Severe means that you have a mental or physical disability that regularly stops you from doing any type of substantially gainful work. Prolonged means that your disability is long-term and of indefinite duration or is likely to result in death. Both “sever” and “prolonger” must be established and occur simultaneously when the application is made. Service Canada  acknowledges that the definition of disability varies across Canada and within a province between government programs and private insurers.

The determination does not consider the diagnosis itself but rather the manner in which the disability impacts your daily life. As noted on the government website, the medical adjudicators consider several factors together, including:

  • the nature and severity of your medical condition
  • the impact of the medical condition and treatment on your capacity to work the prognosis
  • personal characteristics such as age, education and work history
  • your work performance, productivity and how much you are earning.

If the application is rejected you can request a reconsideration. You must make your request for reconsideration in writing within 90 days after you are notified in writing of the decision.

If the reconsideration decision is not in your favour, the next step is to contact the Social Security Tribunal to appeal. You are allowed to bring counsel or proceed yourself.

More information about CPP Disability >>