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How common is it for someone to have a disability?


Believe it or not, having a disability is more common than most people think. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans is living with a disability every day. This number is from a 2012 study which was similar to a previous study released in 2005. Over that time, the amount of people with a disability increased by over 2.2 million, however the percentage of the country with a disability remained unchanged.

The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey defines disability status through six types of questions measuring serious difficulty with hearing, vision, cognition, walking or climbing stairs, as well as difficulty with self-care and independent living. The Americans with disabilities report estimates that 56.9 million people are disabled and puts the percentage of the population with a disability at 19%. Over half of these people reported that their disability was severe.

The report shows that 41% of those age 21 to 64 with any disability were employed, compared with 79% of those with no disability. Along with the lower likelihood of having a job came the higher likelihood of experiencing persistent poverty; that is, continuous poverty over a 24-month period. Among people age 15 to 64 with severe disabilities, 10.8 percent experienced persistent poverty; the same was true for 4.9 percent of those with a non-severe disability and 3.8 percent of those with no disability.

Here are some of the main highlights of the study:

  • People in the oldest age group — 80 and older — were about eight times more likely to have a disability as those in the youngest group — younger than 15 (71 percent compared with 8 percent). The probability of having a severe disability is only one in 20 for those 15 to 24 while it is one in four for those 65 to 69.

  • About 8.1 million people had difficulty seeing, including 2.0 million who were blind or unable to see.

  • About 7.6 million people experienced difficulty hearing, including 1.1 million whose difficulty was severe. About 5.6 million used a hearing aid.

  • Roughly 30.6 million had difficulty walking or climbing stairs, or used a wheelchair, cane, crutches or walker.

  • About 19.9 million people had difficulty lifting and grasping. This includes, for instance, trouble lifting an object like a bag of groceries, or grasping a glass or a pencil.

  • Difficulty with at least one activity of daily living was cited by 9.4 million non institutionalized adults. These activities included getting around inside the home, bathing, dressing and eating. Of these people, 5 million needed the assistance of others to perform such an activity.

  • About 15.5 million adults had difficulties with one or more instrumental activities of daily living. These activities included doing housework, using the phone and preparing meals. Of these, nearly 12 million required assistance.

  • Approximately 2.4 million had Alzheimer’s disease, senility or dementia.

  • Being frequently depressed or anxious such that it interfered with ordinary activities was reported by 7.0 million adults.

  • Adults age 21 to 64 with disabilities had median monthly earnings of $1,961 compared with $2,724 for those with no disability.

  • Overall, the uninsured rates for adults 15 to 64 were not statistically different by disability status: 21.0 percent for people with severe disabilities, 21.3 percent for those with non-severe disabilities and 21.9 percent for those with no disability.

The most common types of disability involve difficulties with walking or independent living. More than 20 million people ages 18 and older reported having serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs in 2015, representing 7.1% of the civilian non-institutionalized population. Another 14 million people ages 18 and older reported having a difficult time doing errands alone (for example, shopping or visiting a doctor) due to physical, mental or emotional conditions.

About 13 million people reported cognitive difficulties. Around 11 million people in the U.S. reported significant hearing difficulty, while roughly 7 million reported significant difficulty with vision, even when wearing glasses.

Despite this many Americans with disabilities, there is still a stigma associated with people who have disabilities. I would bet that nearly everyone knows someone with a disability, whether they are living independently or not. Many of the people with disabilities that I know are met with resistance from community employers who fear that hiring a person with a disability will decrease productivity in the workplace. It is because of this, despite a person's work history or experience, that they are typically offered minimum wage, if they are even offered a job.

A recent example of this lack of consideration for employment has surfaced in the film "Stronger" starring Jake Gyllenhaal. The Ruderman Family Foundation has been outspoken over the past week about this issue. "“The casting of Jake Gyllenhaal as the lead in the movie Stronger is the perfect example on Hollywood’s ongoing systemic discrimination against actors with disabilities.” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “By his own admission, Director David Gordon Green never even considered any other actors in a role in which Gyllenhaal plays a character who is a double amputee. By not even giving actors who are amputees the chance to audition for the role awarded to Gyllenhaal, Green effectively denied actors with disabilities to even be considered for the role.”

The numbers don't lie. Disabled Americans earn less than those without a disability. Those with a disability earned a median of $21,572 in 2015, less than 70% of the median earnings for those without a disability ($31,872), according to the Census Bureau. Both figures are for the civilian, non-institutionalized population ages 16 and older, measured in earnings over the past 12 months.

CHOICE Employment Services hopes to see improvement on these issues in the coming days, months, and years. We believe in fostering inclusion in the community for all people and will never stop advocating for equal treatment and opportunities for people with disabilities. Everyone deserves a fair chance at employment and a fair wage, no matter your race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability status.


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