Vision Loss and Productivity: New CNIB Study Shines Light on Employment Issues
Most of us are aware that Canadians with vision loss can pay a high price in terms of quality of life – the “human” cost of vision loss. Blindness and vision loss can affect work, income, self-esteem, family relationships, driving, leisure activities, community involvement and the activities of daily living.
But what about the financial cost of vision loss? A new study called The Cost of Vision Loss, released in June 2009 by CNIB and the Canadian Ophthalmological Society, answers that question. Further, the study quantifies the overwhelming disadvantage faced by Canadians with vision loss when it comes to employment – and the tremendous impact this lost potential has on Canada.
An indefensible burden
According to the study, vision loss costs Canadians $15.8 billion every year – a staggering $4.4 billion of which comes from lost productivity in the Canadian economy due to underemployment and unemployment (what Canadians with vision loss would be able to contribute to our economy if they were able to fully participate in the workplace). Who bears these costs? The answer is all of us: taxpayers (through federal and provincial/territorial governments), employers, individuals with vision loss and their families and friends all share the financial price tag.
One large contributor to the lost productivity cost is the very low employment rate among Canadians who are blind or have vision loss – 32 per cent. The study notes that this is much lower than the employment rate for Canadians with disabilities in general.
Despite the fact that most Canadians with vision loss attain an educational level higher than other Canadians, many face numerous barriers to employment, particularly attitudinal barriers. As a result, they may experience unemployment or underemployment or be forced to work in jobs that are part-time, seasonal or contract. A diagnosis of vision loss as an adult can also have a devastating impact on someone’s existing career.
“It is unacceptable to have a Canadian minority population with an employment rate as low as that faced by people with vision loss – 32 per cent. It is a national scandal that so many people with vision loss live below the poverty line. We need a national employment strategy and job accommodation programs to better serve Canadians with vision loss, providing a chance at fulfilling work and the opportunity to contribute their talents to the Canadian economy. Governments and employers must both get involved.”
–From “Paying the Price: What Vision Loss Costs Canadians and What We Should Do About It”
Among the study’s other findings:
- The $15.8 billion cost of vision loss is staggering – it is 1.19% of Canada’s entire GDP.
- Every 12 minutes in Canada, someone develops blindness or vision loss.
- About 75 per cent of vision loss in Canada is avoidable through prevention and treatment.
- Vision loss has the highest direct health costs of any disease category in Canada – higher than diabetes, all cancers, or cardiovascular disease.
- Unless we do something about it, the cost of vision loss is going to rise rapidly in future.
- There are many proven, cost-effective ways that the financial and human toll of vision loss can be reduced, through prevention, treatment, accommodation and rehabilitation.
CNIB’s call to action
CNIB has created a policy document in response to The Cost of Vision Loss report called Paying the Price: What Vision Loss Costs Canadians and What We Should Do About It. The document contains specific recommendations for governments, employers, and all Canadians to address the vision loss crisis. A number of these recommendations relate to employment.
CNIB believes the best way to address the human and financial burden of vision loss in Canada is by creating a national vision health plan. In 2003, the Canadian government made a commitment to the World Health Organization to create such a plan by 2007. To date no such plan exists for Canada, even though many other countries already have them in place.
CNIB is calling on the federal government to fulfill its commitment and develop a vision health plan to address this crisis as soon as possible, much as it has addressed other health concerns such as tobacco use and diabetes.
“The Canadian government needs to implement a comprehensive vision health plan now. Every year we wait, more than 45,000 Canadians lose their vision. Every year that goes by costs Canadians $15.8 billion.”
–John M. Rafferty, CNIB President and CEO
About the study
The Cost of Vision Loss report was conducted by independent consulting firm Access Economics Pty Limited, which has done similar studies for Australia and the United States, with further context and research provided by CNIB. Using prevalence-based and conservative methodology, the study built upon existing, authoritative sources of Canadian data and research and took into account Canada’s multicultural society and future demographic trends. It used known costs wherever possible, accurately reflecting real Canadian expenditures and government policies. The result constitutes the most definitive set of data to date available on the subject in Canada.
For more information, including CNIB’s recommendations for a national vision plan, visit cnib.ca/covl.