Article Details

Research Database: Article Details

Citation:  Brucker, D.L., & Houtenville, A.J. (2015). People with disabilities in the United States. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 96 771-774.
Title:  People with disabilities in the United States
Authors:  Brucker, D.L., & Houtenville, A.J.
Year:  2015
Journal/Publication:  Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Publisher:  American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine
Full text:   
Peer-reviewed?  Yes
NIDILRR-funded?  Yes

Structured abstract:

Background:  Disability statistics from multiple data sources show differences between individuals with and with out disabilities in terms of employment, earnings, poverty and participation in "safety net" programs. There are a number of initiatives in place to improve community participation and employment outcomes. There are also many different federal agencies that collect data and other types of information that when synthesized can provide a clearer picture about how people with disabilities are doing in the United States. Each year researchers compile all of the information into the Compendium. This annual document provides disability statistics that can help key stakeholders (i.e. policy makers, researchers, health care practitioners, service providers etc...) who seek to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities.
Purpose:  The purpose of this article was to assess key patterns and trends in disability data and describe the findings relevance within the current policy environment. The authors offer an overview of the Compendium's results specifically related to prevalence of disability, employment, poverty, public programs, and health.
Findings:  Determining prevalence of disability can be difficult because administrative data and survey data have limitations. For example, rates range from 12.7% to 18.7%. The prevalence of disability also varies by subpopulation. There is a large gap in the employment rate between people with disabilities and people without disabilities. There is variability in rates reported across measures due to differences definitions of the data collected (i.e. disability, employment) and demographics of those surveyed etc... Some highlights of the findings include: labor force participation has decreased for individuals with disabilities from 29% in 1981 to 16% in 2014. Changes in the availability of work and public disability benefits have been identified as possible reasons for this change. Demonstration projects funded by the Social Security Administration, have shown that modest improvements in employment are possible. The Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act of 2014 is encouraging state vocational rehabilitation agencies to assist employed people with disabilities with retention which should be relevant for a population that "ages" into disability. Data related to two services directly connected to employment outcomes Special Education and state vocational rehabilitation services are also offered in the Compendium. Education rates vary by type of disability and state. The rehabilitation rate for VR varies by state and type of agency. Federal employment rates are reported. New regulations for federal contractors should help improve employment rates. Employers are also trying innovative practices such as using a tool to benchmark inclusive work practices. Improving employment rates can help address poverty. Poverty is measured in different ways and looks at different populations (i.e. veterans). People with disabilities consistently experience much higher poverty rates as compared to people without disabilities. Recently, the United States has focused on exploring the association between poverty and disability. The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014,makes tax free savings accounts available to individuals who are disabled by age 26. Savings can help cover education, housing, and transportation. Social Security Disability Benefit programs are an important source of income for people with disabilities. A number of demonstrations have shown minimal success with assisting individuals with disabilities with employment. Data related to health indicate people with disabilities have higher rates of "risky health behaviors" compared to people without disabilities. People with disabilities are more likely to be obese and report binge drinking. They are also slightly more likely to have health insurance. Despite having coverage, individuals with disabilities still face substantial barriers in accessing timely health care.
Conclusions:  Government support to improve employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities is not as great as support for their health care and "income maintenance" programs. New federal laws and other initiatives are in place to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities. Patterns and trends must be monitored to see if progress is made. The researchers will continue to create the Compendium by compiling and synthesizing this important information each year.