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Report Number P70-117
Matthew W. Brault

Recent public policy in the United States concerning disability has focused on improving the socioeconomic conditions for people with disabilities. Increasing access to employment opportunities by reducing discrimination and providing public services are the centerpieces of the New Freedom Initiative, which renewed the government’s commitment to the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).1 For years, the ADA has mandated that people with disabilities be afforded legal protections and provided with essential public services. In addition to these provisions, the ADA provides a definition for people with disabilities, in part, as those who have “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”2 Other federal laws that offer guidance on issues affecting people with disabilities include the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, and the Telecommunications Act of 1996.3

In order to assist governmental agencies and advocacy and research organizations that monitor the efficacy of these laws, programs, and policies, as well as the public at large, this report provides estimates of the socioeconomic characteristics of people with disabilities. In addition, since many of the programs and policies target specific groups, this report provides estimates for different categories of disability—from specific activity limitations to the broad category of “with any disability.” This report is an update of Americans with Disabilities: 2002, which presented similar estimates of disability as this report.4 As such, this report includes some comparisons of prevalence estimates between two reports.

The Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), through its supplemental questionnaires on adult and child functional limitations, asks questions about the ability of respondents to perform functional and participatory activities. When a respondent indicates having difficulty performing an activity, a follow-up question is usually asked to determine the severity of the limitation. The responses to these and other related questions are used to develop two overall measures of disability—severe disability and nonsevere disability—described in Figure 1. Throughout this report, these terms will be used to allow analysis of subsets of people with disabilities.

The estimates shown in this report use data collected from June through September 2005 during the fifth interview of the 2004 SIPP panel. The SIPP provides estimates representative of the civilian noninstitutionalized population living in the United States (the population universe), meaning that the disability statuses of people living in institutional group quarters, such as nursing homes, are not included in this report.

About 49.4 percent of people age 5 and over living in institutional group quarters reported a disability in the 2006 American Community Survey (ACS).5 As demonstrated in the ACS, when the institutionalized population is included in the population universe, the estimate of disability prevalence was 15.7 percent, 0.6 percentage points higher than the civilian noninstitutionalized population at 15.1 percent. As such, had this population been included in this report, estimates of disability prevalence may have been higher.

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1 Community-Based Alternatives for Individuals With Disabilities, Exec. Order No. 13217, June 18, 2001.

2 Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. §12102(2)(A).

3 A Guide to Disability Rights Laws: September 2005, available at <www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/cguide.htm>, describes the federal laws that specifically address the interests of people with disabilities.

4 Erika Steinmetz, Americans with Disabilities: 2002, Current Population Reports, P70-107, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC. 2006. See <www.census.gov/prod/2006pubs/p70-107.pdf>.

5 Matthew Brault, Disability Status and the Characteristics of People in Group Quarters: A Brief Analysis of Disability Prevalence Among the Civilian Noninstitutionalized and Total Populations in the American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, 2008.

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