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Census: 1 in 5 Americans Has Disability
53 million reported some level of disability in 1997, Census reports
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Nearly 20 percent or about 1 in every 5 Americans have some level of disability according to data released by the Commerce Department's Census Bureau on March 16, 2001.

Some 53 million people reported some level of disability in 1997, while 1 in 8 -- 33 million -- reported having a severe disability.

By Census Bureau definition, a person with a disability has difficulty in performing functional tasks or daily living activities or meets other criteria, such as a learning or developmental disability. Persons with sever disabilities are defined as being completely unable to perform one or more of these tasks or activities, need personal assistance or have one of the severe conditions described in the report.

The report, Americans With Disabilities: 1997, is the first comprehensive statistical report on the extent and effect of disabilities in America since passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

"Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, the Census Bureau has collected data that make it possible to relate disability status to a range of other variables, including income, employment, health insurance coverage and the receipt of program benefits," said Census Bureau analyst Sharon Stern about the report.

The Census Bureau stresses that the report was not a part of Census 2000, data from which will be released over the next three years.

Figures in the report show persons with severe disabilities are more likely to suffer economically and less likely to be covered by health insurance than persons with no disability. Among people 25-to-64 years of age having a severe disability, only 48 percent had health coverage, compared with 80 percent for people with a non-severe disability and 82 percent of those with no disability.

Other highlights from the report include:

- Among the population age 15 and over, 25 million had difficulty walking a quarter of a mile or climbing a flight of 10 stairs or they used an ambulatory aid, such as a wheelchair (2.2 million) or a cane, crutches or a walker (6.4 million).

- About 18 million individuals age 15 and over had difficulty lifting and carrying a 10-pound bag of groceries or grasping small objects.

- About 7.7 million people age 15 and over had difficulty seeing the words and letters in ordinary newspaper print (even with glasses).

- About 14.3 million people age 15 and over had a mental disability, including 1.9 million with Alzheimer's disease, senility or dementia; and 3.5 million with a learning disability.

- The poverty rate among the population 25-to-64 years old with no disability was 8 percent, compared with 10 percent for people with a nonsevere disability and 28 percent for people with a severe disability.

- In 1997, 9.7 million people age 16 to 64 had a disability that prevented them from working and another 7.2 million were limited as to the kind or amount of work they could do.

These data were collected in late 1997 from approximately 32,000 households in the panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation that started in 1996. The data are subject to sampling variability and other sources of error according to the Census Bureau.

 

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