CDC: 1 in 5 American Adults Live with a Disability

Jul 31, 2015

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Jennifer Calfas, USA TODAY9:54 a.m. EDT July 31, 2015

One in five American adults have at least one kind of disability, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Thursday.

The study, drawn from 2013 data, says 53 million Americans have a disability.

“We know disability types and related challenges can vary,” said Elizabeth Courtney-Long, a health scientist with CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. “In order to understand and address their needs, we need to understand their diverse circumstances. This report provides a snapshot into that.”

The findings come days after the 25th anniversary of the implementation of theAmericans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits the discrimination of someone because of his or her disability in the workplace, transportation and community.

The researchers defined a disability as a self-reported difficulty in one or more of five areas: vision, cognition, mobility, self-care or independent living. For people to have one or several of these disabilities, the study says they have to identify with the specific qualifications the researchers defined in questions.

The study defines a disability with vision as blindness or difficulty in seeing with glasses on. A disability for the cognition category means having a hard time with memory or making decisions due to a physical, mental or condition. For mobility, a disability entails having difficulty while climbing stairs. A self-care category means needing help dressing or bathing, and an independent living disability was defined as needing help to run errands.

The study is also the first state-by-state analysis of Americans with disabilities from CDC. The report found Southern states often had higher percentages of people with disabilities. For example, in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, 31.5%, 31.4% and 31.4%, respectively, of the state adult population has a disability.

Southern states are also more likely to have chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes.

The percentage of Americans in Midwestern and Northern states were nearly half those from Southern states. In Minnesota and Alaska, 16.4% and 17.7% of state residents, respectively, reported a disability.

The report also found adults who have lower education levels, lower income or are unemployed were more likely to have a disability. Broken down by race, the study revealed African American and Hispanic Americans were more likely to have a disability than white Americans.

Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability, a non-profit dedicated to the disabled community in the U.S., told USA TODAY the findings should be viewed to see how disability affects income and unemployment levels.

The non-profit’s research has found that 20% of people with disabilities have a job, while 69% of people without disabilities are employed. However, younger Americans with disabilities have nearly the same access to education as children without disabilities, Glazer said. Glazer is optimistic that more educated and disabled individuals will lead to more employment among the disabled community.

 “Where education goes, employment will follow,” she said.

The CDC partners with several national and state disabilities programs, including the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program and the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability, among others.

Courtney-Long, a co-author on the CDC report, said she believes the report will allow public health officials to understand the prevalence of Americans with disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, which President George H.W. Bush signed into law on July 26, 1990, opened doors to people with disabilities to enter the workforce without discrimination and creation of more accessible locations and working conditions.

“By prohibiting discrimination and ensuring opportunity, the ADA has opened doors and brought dreams within reach,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch at an anniversary event on July 23. 

“It has made our workforce stronger and our society more inclusive. And it has enhanced our nation’s understanding and recognition of all that Americans with disabilities can achieve when they are given more and nothing less than an opportunity to contribute on equal terms.”

The findings also come during the Special Olympics World Games held in Los Angeles. About 6,500 athletes from 165 countries gathered this year for the event, which has occurred since 1968. Individuals with intellectual disabilities participate in the Games each year.

“My husband and I have seen Americans unite in so many ways across the country,” said first lady Michelle Obama at the Opening Ceremony on July 25. “These Games are a perfect reflection of that unity. They show us that we’re all in this together – that we can lift up our friends and neighbors, and that we can bring out the best in each other to reach even higher heights.”

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