An online resource to understand disability “by the numbers”

For the past few years, there has been a place online where anyone interested can get accurate, reliable, and revealing data on people with disabilities in the United States. In March 2022, it received an update.

It’s easy to talk about the supposed size of communities and populations of people with disabilities – whether they’re bigger than people think or smaller than they’d like to boast. Everyone has assumptions about the lives of people with disabilities and how they should compare to those of people without disabilities. But how does anyone know what he is talking about?

On March 11-12, 2022, the University of New Hampshire Disability Statistics and Demographics Rehabilitation Research and Education Center gave online presentations on the 2021 Annual Report: People with Disabilities in America — a summary of the conclusions in their most recent Compendium of Annual Disability Statistics. The compendium and report can be understood as a comprehensive collection of raw numerical charts, along with a shorter selection of charts highlighting some of the most interesting findings from the Disability Statistics Compendium and tracking them over time. Presentations were free. Video recordings with audio, subtitles and sign language interpretation are also available free of charge. The project is funded by a grant from the National Institute for Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research.

The information in these resources is fascinating for anyone involved in disability work. Some of them likely confirm pre-existing instincts about the disability community, while offering many surprises and reasons to rethink long-held assumptions. Either way, the Disability Statistics Compendium and other similar data sources help people interested in disability issues better know what they think and talk about.

Solid information on people with disabilities is available. The problem for users is that it is difficult to find and assemble. Project director Andrew Houtenville noted in his presentation that disability statistics are “scattered across multiple sources” and therefore difficult to put together and compare in a consistent and meaningful way. Thus, the purpose of the Disability Statistics Compendium, says Houtenville, is to “bridge the gap between producers and consumers of disability data.”

The compendium and the annual report have a single and essential objective. They bring together data on disability from many sources, including data from the US Census Bureau American Community Survey, Social Security and several other data collection. This year there is also a newly added section on voter registration and voting, incorporating data from recent studies by Drs. Lisa Schur and Douglas Kruse of Rutgers University.

The project started with a National Disability Council recommendation in 2008 for regular reporting on the situation of people with disabilities. Yearbooks are now available since 2009.

This year’s compendium update and report has been affected by Covid-19. The pandemic ended all Census Bureau in-person interviews, resulting in more than 31% fewer interviews overall, which in turn affected data quality. “Experimental weights” used, “with caution,” Houtenville said. Thus, the most recent data should be understood as more of an estimate and not strictly compared to data from previous years. Project staff do not recommend comparing 2020 numbers with 2019 numbers. Their charts show 2020 numbers, but they are not tied to 2019.

For example, the most recent figures for the use of public transport to get to work are massively lower for people with and without disabilities, compared to previous years. This likely reflects the pandemic itself far more than any long-term trends for people with disabilities, employment, or accessibility to public transportation. And the latest figures for the “Disablement Index” – which is the percentage of people with disabilities who find it difficult to run errands independently outside the home – are also heavily skewed by the pandemic, which in 2020 has at least reduced activities. of everyone outside the home.

Despite the distortions and confusion induced by the pandemic, the recent data highlighted in the annual report and compendium show how this project can shed some light and some degree of logic on the complex disability community.

Here are some examples:

  • 13.2% of Americans had some sort of physical or mental disability in 2019. There have been some fluctuations in this figure over the years. But the size of the disabled population has been consistently between 12% and 14% since 2008.
  • 38.9% of disabled people worked for pay in 2019, compared to 78.6% of able-bodied people. This large employment gap has widened and narrowed by a few percentage points here and there over time. But employment for people with and without disabilities has generally ebbed and flowed with the economy. At the same time, 25.9% of people with disabilities lived in poverty in 2019, compared to only 11.4% of people without disabilities. The poverty gap has also remained roughly the same over time, similarly following general trends in the economy.
  • There are significant racial and regional disparities among people with disabilities in the United States. The data clearly shows higher disability rates for African Americans, and lower education rates, more institutionalization (especially imprisonment), and higher unemployment and poverty for African Americans. Americans with Disabilities. people compared to these rates for all people with disabilities. And there are significant differences between rural and urban settings, with higher prevalence of disability in rural areas and generally worse outcomes in employment, education and other indicators for people with disabilities living in rural areas. rural areas.
  • Figures on registration and voting rates were included for the first time. This includes national and state figures on the registration and voting of persons with and without disabilities in the 2020 elections, as well as figures on voting methods, such as traditional on-site polls and postal voting. There still appears to be a persistent political participation gap between people with and without disabilities, although it has narrowed somewhat.

It is impossible to draw too many simple conclusions from the Digest of Disability Statistics and Annual Report 2021. One thing the data clearly shows is the extreme complexity of the lives of people with disabilities and the trends in the disability population. However, for casual observers and experts alike, one word stands out: consistency.

Across dozens of measures of population, quality of life, and social status, the gaps between Americans with and without disabilities have been broadly consistent over the years. Despite some notable fluctuations, there have been few major setbacks or breakthroughs for people with disabilities. These reports paint a picture of very gradual progress. They suggest that so far no one has found a revolutionary policy or approach to changing the basic equations of life for Americans with disabilities.

In addition to specific data points and graphs, the compendium and annual reports provide two other important elements to those who use them:

First, they help people to more accurately perceive the size and composition of the disabled population. They refute the common assumption that people with disabilities are a tiny minority with little significance beyond humanitarian concerns. They flesh out the actual size of the disabled population in numbers and percentages, both nationally and state by state. And they map the relative sizes of disabled subpopulations of people with different types of disabilities – including ambulatory, cognitive, visual and hearing impairments, as well as disabilities affecting self-care and independent living.

Secondly, the compendium and the annual reports confirm the strong but often vague feeling that unemployment and poverty remain significantly higher for people with disabilities than for people without disabilities. Some people may find this gap natural and may even think that the number of people with disabilities in employment and financial security is remarkably high. Others, including many if not most people with disabilities, see the gap as evidence of systemic failure and injustice. However these numbers are interpreted, organized and presented here, they help to give shape and direction to what otherwise is often just instinct.

Finally, these resources help people find the right disability-related data for specific purposes. They offer both national data to illustrate broad trends and an accurate sense of scale – and state data that can be used to detect and study regional differences. Above all, the collection and the annual reports make it possible to see all the measures also by race, sex, age and type of disability. It gives real substance, form and meaning to the reality that disability intersects with all other demographic identities and communities.

The Disability Statistics Compendium and Annual Reports on Disabled People in America are essential resources for anyone working, thinking, and writing about disability issues. All people with disabilities and anyone with an interest in truly understanding disability issues should bookmark these.

Julio V. Miller