Anna-Karina Tabunar was juggling her career and family when she woke up about six years ago with a painful headache and a tingling sensation running through her arms and legs.

"It dragged on all day," Tabunar recalls. "I couldn't feel my arms, hands, feet, and legs."

The Ottawa journalist said she attempted to make her way to work that day, but nearly fell when she attempted to get off the bus.

"I realized I couldn't see the ground," she told CTV's Canada AM on Thursday.

Tabunar was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome, which affects an individual's peripheral nervous system and optic nerves.

"I couldn't work," she said.

Tabunar suddenly found herself among the one in seven Canadians living with a disability.

"I was one of the stats, and the people around me who were helping me with my recovery were people with disabilities," she said. "It became painful clear to me that one of the number one issues facing people with disabilities is unemployment or lack of employment."

A new study from Statistics Canada released Thursday, which marks the UN's International Day of Persons with Disabilities, shows less than half of working-age people with disabilities are employed.

Tabunar set out to document the work-related experience of Canadians with disabilities.

The documentary, "Talent Untapped,” premieres at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., on Friday.

She said a "small minority" of businesses and organizations are tapping into the talent pool of people with disabilities.

Tabunar recalls meeting a deaf man in his 20s named Michael who was working as a dishwasher.

"He told me if it wasn't for his job, he would be home, in his basement playing video games," she said. "This job has not only provided him with a steady paycheque at competitive wages, it has opened up his life. He has a social circle, he has a routine."

Tabunar says she hopes her documentary serves as a "wake-up call" to employers in both the public and private sectors and all levels of government.

"There is this huge talent pool that's sitting and waiting," she said.

Lack of local jobs, inadequate training most common barrier: StatsCan

The latest Statistics Canada numbers show:

  • In 2012, 10.1 per cent of Canadians aged 15 to 64 reported a difficulty or impairment because of a long-term condition or health problem that limited their daily activities
  • 45.2 per cent of these Canadians with a disability were employed
  • 5.4 per cent were unemployed
  • 1,155,500, or 49.4 per cent, were not in the labour force

According to the study, nearly one-third of Canadians with disabilities who are not in the workforce, or 411,600 individuals, are potential workers.

"Almost three-quarters (72.6 per cent) of potential workers aged 15 to 64 who were not in the labour force experienced barriers that discouraged them from looking for work," the study stated. "The most common barriers included lack of locally available jobs (32.5 per cent), inadequate training or experience (31.9 per cent) and unsuccessful past attempts obtaining employment (26.0 per cent).

Jobs for Canadians with disabilities 'economic imperative': Hansen

Former Paralympian and activist Rick Hansen said Thursday that as the baby boomer generation ages, the number of Canadians with a disability is expected to increase to one in five from one in seven by 2030.

Hansen told CTV's Canada AM on Thursday that removing barriers for Canadians with disabilities to enter the workforce is not just a human rights issue, but "an economic imperative for our country to succeed."

A national survey by the Rick Hansen Foundation and the Angus Reid Institute released Thursday shows Canadians significantly underestimate the prevalence of disabilities among the national population.    

The survey shows the majority of Canadians believe disability affects 1 one 25, far from the actual number of one in seven.

The survey also shows that 90 per cent of respondents believe accessibility is a right, not a privilege, and 87 per cent believe Canada should be a world leader in disability rights.

However, Hansen said while there's plenty of support for disability rights, not enough progress has been made to ensure public transportation, private and public buildings and workplaces are accessible.

"We want to educate Canadians that it's not just a cost, but a benefit by making that investment," he said. "We're bringing people into society so they can contribute."