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School-Aged Children With Disabilities in U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas: 2010

Report Number ACSBR/10-12
Matthew W. Brault


Of the 53.9 million school-aged children (aged 5 to 17) in the U.S. civilian noninstitutionalized population, about 2.8 million (5.2 percent) were reported to have a disability in 2010.1 For many of these children, the kinds of disabilities they experience may require special approaches to providing education or other accommodations.

In 1975, Congress enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which required all public schools that accept federal funds to provide equal access to education for children with physical and mental disabilities.2 Congress reauthorized the act in 1990, expanded certain programs, and renamed it the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).3 In 2004, Congress amended the law and further clarified its intended purpose that states provide a free appropriate public education for all students aged 3 to 21, including children with disabilities.4

IDEA defines a “child with a disability” as any child who has:

“mental retardation, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance […], orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, or specific learning disabilities; and who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.”5

Before a child is deemed eligible for special education services under IDEA, the child must be evaluated to determine his or her disability status and educational needs.6 For each child who is determined to have a disability under this act, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is written to guide the provision of services.

The American Community Survey (ACS) captures core concepts of disability that may be useful for understanding the population of children for whom special education services may be necessary. While this measure of disability covers elements of physical and mental impairment, the ACS does not identify children who have been evaluated for or qualify under the statutory definition of a disability in IDEA. This report presents data on the disability status and public school enrollment of children aged 5 to 17 who do not yet have a high school diploma or equivalent. These estimates are presented for the civilian noninstitutionalized population in the United States, states, and metropolitan statistical areas using data from the 2010 ACS. This population excludes children in institutions such as juvenile correctional facilities, noncorrectional group homes for juveniles, and residential schools for people with disabilities.7

1 S1810. Disability Characteristics, <>.
2 PL 94-142.
3 PL 101-476.
4 PL 108-4460. For information, see the Department of Education’s IDEA Web site: <>.
5 20 U.S.C. §1401(3)(A).
6 20 U.S.C. §1414.
7 2010 ACS/PRCS Group Quarters Definitions, <>.


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