By Guest Blogger Madelaine Sayko, President and Co-Founder, Cognitive Compass, LLC
The Statistics on Cognitive Disabilities and Employment
Individuals with cognitive disabilities are one of the largest categories of people with disabilities, yet this demographic exhibits some of the highest unemployment and poverty rates. Only about 11 percent of people with cognitive disabilities are working full time, and 33 percent are living in poverty, which represents the highest poverty rate of any disability subgroup. Among working-age individuals with disabilities, people with cognitive disabilities have the largest percentage of individuals actively seeking work. Of those who are employed, they are the lowest wage earners of any disability group1. Such statistics speak clearly to how challenging it is for individuals with cognitive disabilities to find sustainable and meaningful employment and, equally, how much they want to.
Cornell University’s 2012 Disability Status Report identified the prevalence of cognitive disabilities among working-age adults at 4.9 percent of the United States population (i.e., more than 14 million people). According to the Coleman Institute of Cognitive Disabilities, there are more than 28.5 million people living with cognitive disabilities in the United States alone. Even this statistic may not tell the whole story, as some cognitive disabilities may be underreported or associated primarily with other conditions. Attempts at improved data collection have shown that cognitive challenges are likely more prevalent than previously measured. For example, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified 2.5 million people with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in 2010, a Mount Sinai Medical Center study, designed to specifically identify and include those with mild TBI, indicated that there may be as many as 30 million individuals nationally. TBI is one type of a cognitive disability.
Defining Cognitive Disability
One of the challenges in understanding the full scope and impact of cognitive disabilities is finding a definition. The term is often poorly understood and sometimes used interchangeably with developmental or intellectual disability; while there are overlaps, they are not necessarily the same. According to the Employment Disability Institute at Cornell University, a cognitive disability is “a physical, mental or emotional condition which causes a person to have serious difficulty in concentrating, remembering or making decisions.” Comparatively, the Coleman Institute on Cognitive Disabilities uses the following definition: “a substantial limitation in one’s capacity to think, including conceptualizing, planning and sequencing of thoughts and actions, remembering, interpreting subtle social cues and understanding numbers and symbols.”