WASHINGTON (AP) – More than half the nation’s disabled people hold jobs, but they often have lower incomes and less education and are less likely to have health insurance than people without disabilities, the government said Friday.
Nearly one in five Americans – about 51 million people – had physical or mental disabilities in 2002, according to the Census Bureau. About 33 million of them had severe disabilities.
The likelihood of disabilities, not surprisingly, increased with age: Fewer than one in 10 people 15 and younger had a disability, while more than half of those 65 and older – and 72 percent of those 80 and older – had them.
“The primary obstacle that people with intellectual disabilities face is the attitudes of people around them,” said Chris Privett, a spokesman for The Arc, a service and advocacy group for people with disabilities. “Once people understand that someone with an intellectual disability is not as different from anyone else as they would assume, things get simpler.”
The Census Bureau surveyed 26,800 households for the report, asking people about their health and if they had difficulty performing various tasks, said Sharon Stern, chief of the bureau’s poverty and health statistics branch.
Classified as disabled
People were classified as disabled if they had difficulty performing tasks such as seeing, hearing, bathing or doing light housework, or if they had conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or autism.
They were considered to have severe disabilities if they were unable to perform any of those tasks, or if they had severe cases of specific conditions.
About 56 percent of disabled adults, ages 21 to 64, had jobs in 2002. Among those with severe disabilities, 43 percent had jobs.
“People are starting to look more at people’s abilities instead of their disability,” Privett said. “But in the advocacy community, our work is far from finished.”
The first President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, outlawing discrimination against people with disabilities and promising them access to buildings, services and transportation. Since then, schools have added elevators, private companies have erected Braille signs and employers have been prohibited from denying jobs to disabled workers.
Karen Wolffe, director of professional development at the American Foundation for the Blind, credits the law with raising awareness of people with disabilities.
“I can remember when I was a kid. We didn’t have cutouts in the sidewalk for people with wheelchairs,” Wolffe said. “Now, people are accustomed to Braille in the elevators and they are accustomed to ramps.”
Wolffe, however, said many employers still are wary of hiring disabled workers because they are worried about getting sued if they later discipline them or deny them a promotion.
Among working age adults who were blind or had limited vision, 55 percent had jobs in 2002, according to the census report. Among all working age adults, 83 percent had jobs.
Among the report’s other findings:
-The median income – the point at which half make more and half make less – was $12,800 for people with severe disabilities, $22,000 for those with milder disabilities and $25,000 for those with no disabilities.
-22 percent of adults ages 25 to 64 with severe disabilities had college degrees, while 33 percent of those with milder disabilities had degrees and 43 percent of those with no disabilities had degrees.
-19 percent of adults ages 25 to 64 with severe disabilities had no health insurance. About 17 percent of those with milder disabilities had no insurance, while 16 percent of adults with no disabilities were without health insurance.
On The Net:
Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/disability/disability.html