do we need disability statistics?
Statistics on disability can assist policy makers, advocates, service
providers, and others to understand issues and trends around disability.
Understanding the characteristics of the population of individuals
with disabilities can help to make realistic plans (e.g., housing
development planners can identify how many accessible housing units
are needed in a community) and develop better policies (e.g., identify
areas in need of special transportation and services in case of natural
However, accessing current statistics can be challenging, and even
what is meant by disability is different from what you might think.
For example, using two different national surveys to estimate the
number of people with disabilities can give radically different results.
According the American Community Survey (ACS) in 2012 there were 37.6
million individuals with a disability in the U.S. (12.1%), but that
is much lower than the estimate for the 2010 The Survey of Income
and Program Participation (SIPP 2010), which estimates 56.7 million
people. One of the issues is how to define disability. There are dozens
of definitions used by federal programs alone, so it is not surprising
that there is not a simple way to inquire about disability on a survey.
However, the definition and the survey questions used make a big difference
in how many people are counted as having a disability.
Understanding Disability Prevalence using the ACS
The ACS is the only national survey that allows us to get disability
statistics at a local level. The ACS uses six basic disability types
in its definition of disability and the prevalence varies based on
the disability type. The most common is an ambulatory disability with
6.9% of people reporting difficulty walking or climbing stairs. Many
people have multiple disabilities - over half of persons reporting
a disability in the ACS report have more than one of the six types
Disability prevalence (percent of population with a disability) varies
by a variety of factors including geographic location and age. As
shown in in the map below, there is wide variability in disability
prevalence with higher rates in the Southeast and lower rates in the
upper Midwest. It is unclear why exactly there is such geographic
variability, but it is likely influenced by access to and quality
of healthcare, poverty, working conditions, or other factors. Age
is also a very important factor and has important implications as
the baby boomers move into their 60s and 70s. As shown
in Figure 3, the prevalence of disability is 10% for working-age individuals,
but increases to 25% of those 65-74 years old and to 50% for those
75 years old and over.
How can I learn more about Disability
Cornell University has developed an easy to use site to access disability
statistics at a state or national level. On that site you can access
a wealth of information regarding disability prevalence by age, race,
gender, and ethnicity. The site also provides comparisons with the
non-disabled population on important indicators including employment,
household income, poverty, Social Security Income (SSI) receipt, and
educational attainment. Other sources of disability data include the
U.S. Census Bureaus American Factfinder website where you can
access a variety of statistics including detailed disability employment
tabulations for thousands of geographic entities across the U.S. Monthly
employment estimates by disability status can be accessed on the Bureau
of Labor Statistics site.
Accurate assessment of the numbers of people with disabilities in
the U.S. is critical for effective planning at the local, state, and
federal levels. With good information, planners and policy makers
can have a great impact on the lives of people with disabilities at
work, at home and in the community.
by William Erickson and Sarah von Schrader.
You can read
the complete article and the full magazine, including all of the photos
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