Disability Statistics Show Little Improvement in Many Measures for People with Disabilities

I was honored to have the opportunity to provide a reaction from a disability rights advocate to information presented at an event releasing the Annual Disability Statistics Compendium  on February 4. The compendium is put together each year by Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire through the Stats Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. AAPD is proud to be a partner in the Stats RRTC, to help connect people to the excellent research and data that the RRTC produces, and help plan the release event.

The compendium is an excellent resource for tracking how people with disabilities are doing compared to people without disabilities on a variety of measures and how the programs and services for people with disabilities we have in place are helping to improve those outcomes. The compendium provides information on the prevalence of disability in the United States, a variety of employment and labor force participation measures, poverty among people with disabilities, earnings, veterans, health insurance coverage, health measures, levels of participation in Social Security disability programs, special education, vocational rehabilitation, and Federal spending on people with disabilities. The companion annual report highlights state and trend data as well as digging in to some specific indicators.

Unfortunately, these statistics, as helpful as they are to assist us in assessing the progress people with disabilities have or have not made, do not paint a very positive picture.  Here are some of the stark statistics contained in the compendium and annual report regarding the lack of progress people with disabilities have made based on some key indicators:

  • Labor Force Participation: There remains a huge gap of more than 40% between the labor force participation of people with disabilities (34.4%) and people without them (75.4%).  Some disability groups do better than others with slightly more than one in two people who are deaf or hard of hearing engaged in the labor force, while slightly less than 1 in 4 people with a cognitive disability or an ambulatory disability are.
  • Median Earnings: People without disabilities have median earnings of $31,324 while people with disabilities have median earnings of only $21,232, nearly 1/3 less.
  • Poverty: People with disabilities live in poverty at twice the rate of people without them (28.1% vs. 13.3%). And the poverty level ranges greatly based on which state an individual with a disability lives in – from a low of 17.7% to an astounding high of 61.5%.
  • Health Indicators: 41.1% of people with disabilities are obese compared to only 25.2% of people without disabilities and nearly 1 in 4 people (24.5%) of people with disabilities smoke compared to only 15.3% without disabilities.

And unfortunately the trends over time don’t look too much better. These statistics provide a concrete reminder that we still have a lot of work to do to ensure that we have the programs and policies in place that will enable people with disabilities to become economically self-sufficient and achieve middle class life styles. We must continue to push for federal policy that ensures people with disabilities who need access to services and supports can earn and save without jeopardizing access to them. We must continue to work with employers to overcome misperceptions and myths that stymie the hiring of talented qualified individuals with disabilities. We need to continue to provide opportunities for young people with disabilities to engage in the labor force through mentoring, internships, and apprenticeships. We have to continue to advocate for policies that ensure that there is adequate affordable accessible housing and transportation. And we must continue to push for the Federal investment necessary to support individuals with disabilities to be fully integrated into their communities. If we don’t, next year’s statistics might not look much better.

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