EARN - Statistics on disability

Why 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 emergencies).

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 of disability.

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 60’s and 70’s. 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 Statistics?

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 Bureau’s 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.

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Excerpts from the Stevie Wonder Issue Jun/Jul 2014:

Shayne — Meningococcal Septicemia

China — Love of Music

VOICEYE — Accessible Code

Stevie Wonder — Isn’t He Lovely?

EARN — Statistics

Japan — Aging is Changing a Country

Articles in the Stevie Wonder Issue; Senator Harkin — Possibilties of ADA; Ashley Fiolek — Back on Track; Humor — Physical Torture; Geri Jewell — Boom, there it is!; Dia— Bachelor of Arts in Deaf Studies; China — Love of Music; Long Haul Paul — Powder Blue Tuxedo; Betsy — NextSTEP; Japan — Aging is Changing a Country; Shayne — Meningococcal Septicemia; Special Olympics — Staying Active; VOICEYE — Accessible Code; Stevie Wonder — Isn’t He Lovely?!; EARN — Statistics; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences... subscribe

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