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Disabilities Affect One-Fifth of All Americans

This proportion will increase in the coming decades. For more information regarding disabilites, please continue reading . . .

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. Data surveys 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, 79.1 percent of people without a disability had a job or business compared with 41.1 percent of those with a non-severe disability, and 27.5 percent of those with a severe disability. The latter figure actually represents a gain since a previous census.

ABOUT 1 IN 5 AMERICANS, (56.7 million), have some kind of disability, and 1 in 10 have a severe disability. In addition, 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 12.3 million people aged 6 and older, (4.4 percent), have disabilities so severe that they require personal assistance to carry out activities of daily living, (ADLs), or instrumental activities of daily living, (IADLs). 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 15, 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 are also 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).
  • . . . if he or she has difficulty performing activities of daily living.
  • . . . if he or she has difficulty with certain social roles, (doing school work for children, working at a job and around the house for adults).

A PERSON IS CONSIDERED to have a SEVERE disability . . .

  • . . . if he or she is unable to perform one or more activities.
  • . . . if he or she uses an assistive device to get around.
  • . . . if if he or she needs assistance from another person to perform basic activities.

Additional Links to Information

U.S. Americans with Disabilities: 2010
Household Economic Studies | Current Population Reports - July 2012

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