Statistics on Disability

Disabilities affect 18.7 percent of all Americans

This amounts to 56.7 million of the 303.9 million in the civilian non-institutionalized population in 2010. About 38.3 million people (12.6 percent) had a severe disability About 12.3 million people aged 6 years and older (4.4 percent) needed assistance with one or more activities of daily living (ADLs) or instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). (Source: United States Census Americans with Disabilities Report Series 2010)

Work and Disability

A major purpose of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was to increase the employment rate of people with disabilities by making it illegal to practice discrimination against individuals who happen to have a disability. The October 1994 - January 1995 survey data confirm that employment, while gradually increasing, continues to be a problem for people with disabilities.

In the prime employable years of 21 to 64, for example, 82 percent of people without a disability had a job or business compared with 77 percent of those with a non-severe disability, and 26 percent of those with a severe disability. The latter figure actually represents a gain since a previous census. 

ABOUT 1 IN 5 AMERICANS HAVE some kind of disability, and 1 in 10 have a severe disability (see box for definitions). And, with the population aging and the likelihood of having a disability increasing with age, the growth in the number of people with disabilities can be expected to accelerate in the coming decades.

If current trends continue, Americans 65 years old and over will make up 20 percent of the total population by the year 2030 compared with about 12 percent currently. In the October 1994 - January 1995 period, for example, about 16 million of an estimated 31 million seniors age 65 and over reported some level of disability.

The need for personal assistance

About 9 million people of all ages have disabilities so severe that they require personal assistance to carry out everyday activities. About 80 percent of the people who take on the role of primary helper are relatives, and nearly half of these primary helpers live with the person with a disability.

Differences by age and race

Disability is no respecter of age, sex or race. Even among children ages 6 to 14, for instance, about 1 in 8 had some type of disability. Nevertheless, the likelihood of having a disability increases with age half of seniors 65 years old and older have a disability. Although age is the main factor affecting the likelihood of having a disability, there also are differences by race and ethnicity.

What constitutes a disability?

A person is considered to have a disability if he or she has difficulty performing certain functions (seeing, hearing, talking, walking, climbing stairs and lifting and carrying), or has difficulty performing activities of daily living, or has difficulty with certain social roles (doing school work for children, working at a job and around the house for adults). A person who is unable to perform one or more activities, or who uses an assistive device to get around, or who needs assistance from another person to perform basic activities is considered to have a severe disability.