A Look at Key Disability Demographics and Statistics

Published June 10, 2021

How many people in the United States have a disability?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 61 million adults in the United States — or roughly one in four — live with some kind of disability.

With one in three people in the South having a disability, the highest concentration of people living with a disability is the South. Disability is especially common in certain demographics: one in five adults with a disability are 65 or older, one in four are women, and two in five are non-latinx indigenous Americans and Alaskans.

Although it may sound counterintuitive to some, disability often equates to diminished health care access: one in three adults with disabilities has healthcare needs that have been unmet due to cost in the last year, and one in four has not had a routine checkup within the past year, per the CDC. Disability too-often goes hand-in-hand with financial insecurity.

Which disabilities are most and least common?

Mobility-related disabilities are the most common with seven million U.S. adults (16.3% of the noninstitutionalized adult population) impacted, followed by cognitive, independent living, hearing, vision, and self-care disabilities, in that order. Mobility disabilities refer to the inability to independently use in part or in full one or more body parts.

Which disabilities are growing and declining in prevalence?

Developmental disabilities are on the rise, and in the last few years especially autism diagnoses have soared. Interestingly, disability later in life has declined over the last few decades, most likely because of medical technology improvements as well as behavioral changes. That said, in the United States today, 40% of people age 65 and older are classified as having a disability.

What cities are attracting more people with disabilities?

Although no city is perfectly accessible, some municipalities seem to do a much better job than others at creating inclusive environments. A team of researchers from national, reputable academic institutions studied disability across three key dimensions: economy, quality of life, and health care. They looked at cost of living, the employment rate for people with disabilities, the percentage of people with disabilities living in poverty, cost of health care, the number of people with disabilities living in the area, and public space accessibility.

Based on those criteria, the top-three most attractive cities for people with disabilities were South Burlington, VT; Scottsdale, AZ; and St. Louis, MO. The bottom three were Winston-Salem, NC; Bridgeport, CT; and Providence, RI.

Laredo, TX has the lowest cost of living, which is important to note when looking at the economic health of people with disabilities. South Burlington has the highest disability employment rate. Pearl City, HI has the lowest percentage of people with disabilities living in poverty. Laredo also has the lowest cost of doctor visits and in-home services.

The highest percentage of people with disabilities is in Huntington, WV. San Francisco has the most accessible parks. Finally, Omaha, NB has the most primary care physicians per capita. Cities can make themselves more attractive to people with disabilities by being as accessible as possible with an inclusive popular, good economy, and abundant access to inexpensive healthcare.

How do the income and economic statistics of people with disabilities compare to the general population?

Disabilities cost about $400 billion in healthcare expenditures each year in the U.S. The U.S. Census shows that the poverty rate for people with disabilities is more than double that of their non-disabled peers, at 28.4% and 12.4% respectively. Adults living with disabilities are more than twice as likely to smoke as people without disabilities (28.2% to 13.4%), and have heart disease (11.5% to 3.8%) and diabetes (16.3% to 7.2%).

[Read: Lack of Accessibility Can Create Long Term Impact on People with Disabilities]

As Talk Poverty states, disability is both a consequence and a cause of poverty.

Disability can lead to job loss and reduced earnings, barriers to education and skills development, significant additional expenses and many other challenges that can lead to economic hardship. It is also a consequence because poverty can limit access to health care and preventive services and increase the likelihood that a person lives and works in an environment that may adversely affect health.

Are there any lessons we can learn from this data?

Though advocacy efforts have helped amplify the stories of people with disabilities so that real improvements have been made, there is still much to be done. There is evidence that investing in services for people with disabilities can actually reduce costs in the long term.

Expanding Medicaid, ensuring paid leave protection and sick leave, raising the minimum wage, increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit for workers without dependent children, investing in accessible and affordable housing, investing in transportation, and improving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) could all help to lift people out of poverty or near-poverty. That, in turn, would alleviate pressure on state and federal governments as well as the healthcare system at large.

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