Employment, financial support, and equal access to facilities and services are main issues affecting the disabled.


What counts as a disability is a question that is constantly in flux - in the courts, as a policy issue and in our general perceptions. We won't delve into that debate, but offer a few definitions just to give you a general law of the land.

  • From the Census: "A disability is a long-lasting physical, mental, or emotional condition. This condition can make it difficult for a person to do activities such as walking, climbing stairs, dressing, bathing, learning, or remembering. This condition can also impede a person from being able to go outside the home alone or to work at a job or business."
  • When it comes to discrimination, according to the ADA: " An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment."

(Disabilities related to students and learning are a different matter and aren't included on this page. See instead our Special Education page.)

Percentage of Americans with disabilities


  • of all Americans: 19.3%

By age:

  • of 5-15 year olds: 5.8% (Note: this does not include children with educational disabilities)
  • of 16-64 year olds: 18.6%

11.9% have an employment disability

65 and older: 41.9%

Income and employment

Percent of Americans with low level of income who are (1995) (Census):

  • Disabled: 19.3%
  • Severely disabled: 42.2%
  • Nondisabled: 13.3%

Percent of Americans who are employed and who are (1995) (Census):

  • Disabled: 76.9%
  • Severely disabled: 26.1%
  • Nondisabled: 82.1%

Average income of Americans in full time workforce who are (2000) (Census) :

  • Disabled: $28,803
  • Nondisabled person: $33,970


Percent of those living in public or subsidized housing who are disabled:


Number of Americans who use wheelchairs:

  • 1.4 million (1992) (NIDRR)

Numbers who use walking assistance, like canes:

  • 7.3 million (1992)

Percentage of buildings that are wheelchair accessible in the (Cornell study of employers as reported by DOL):

  • Private sector: 82%
  • Public sector: 93%

Social Security Disability

Who is entitled to SSI and SSDI: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides funds for low income disabled or blind people and their children under 18 based on need. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) gives benefits to disabled or blind workers and their families who are insured under the act. To be insured, you need a minimum number of work credits as determined by Social Security guidelines. (SSA)

SSDI and SSI budget (SSA):

  • SSDI budget: $66.4 billion in 2003 and $80.3 billion in 2004
  • SSI budget: $33.8 billion in 2003 and $37.3 billion in 2004

Where the facts are from:

Other sources:

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