By Guest Blogger Amy Steinweg, survey statistician, U.S. Census Bureau
July 26, 2014marked the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Do you know how federal, tribal, state and local planners know the characteristics of local populations in order to improve services such as more accessible transportation? Or, how someone can evaluate the success of these programs? The answers to both of these questions are: U.S. Census Bureau statistics.
The Census Bureau collects disability data throughout the year and on multiple surveys. The most useful survey for this purpose may be the American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS has the largest sample size of any of the Census Bureau surveys. As a result, it can produce estimates for places, cities and counties, in addition to larger geographies. The ACS includes six questions on disability and a variety of additional topics such as demographics, employment and health insurance coverage.
Statistics about the size, distribution and needs of the population with disabilities are essential for developing disability employment policy. For the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), information about functional limitations are important to ensure that comparable services are available to all people with disabilities. Under the Older Americans Act, federal grants are awarded to states and tribal areas based on the number of elderly people with physical and mental disabilities.
Local governments across the country use ACS statistics to plan projects and allocate resources. Frequently, as the only data source available on local populations, the ACS provides critical insight for public service planning. On Census.gov, American FactFinder provides dynamically generated tables and maps, with dozens focused specifically on disability and many more that include disability as a characteristic.
For example, through FactFinder, we can discover that among the civilian non-institutionalized population in 2012, the county (with a population of 65,000 or more) with the highest disability rate was Pike County, Ky. (30 percent). Arlington County, Va., at 5 percent, had among the lowest rates. Pike County also had a lower employment rate for individuals with a disability. In 2012, 22 percent of people with a disability in Pike County were employed, compared to 41 percent in Arlington County. This is just an example of the invaluable statistics that the ACS can provide.
In a country of more than 318 million individuals, understanding disability across America is not simple. The Census Bureau statistics, however, offer a great place to start.
Amy Steinweg is a survey statistician with the Health and Disability Statistics Branch in the Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division of the U.S. Census Bureau. For the past six years, she has produced and analyzed health insurance and disability data, with particular expertise in the Survey of Income and Program Participation. Steinweg received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Florida and a master’s degree in demography, with a focus on health and disability, from the University of Pennsylvania.