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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Annual Disability Status Reports?

The Annual Disability Status Reports provide policy makers, disability advocates, reporters, and the public with a summary of the most recent demographic and economic statistics on the non-institutionalized population with disabilities. They contain information on the population size and disability prevalence for various demographic subpopulations, as well as statistics related to employment, earnings, and household income. Comparisons are made to people without disabilities and across disability types. Disability Status Reports and other statistics are available for each state, DC, and Puerto Rico at

The Status Reports primarily look at the working-age population because the employment gap between people with and without disabilities is a major focus of government programs and advocacy efforts. Furthermore, employment is a key factor in the social integration and economic self-sufficiency of working-age people with disabilities. In the future we will add health-related statistics.

The estimates in the Disability Status Report are based on American Community Survey (ACS) data, a U.S. Census Bureau survey that replaced the decennial census long form. See the ACS user Guide on for additional information on the ACS. See for more information regarding the ACS.

Download the Disability Status Reports from the home page

Where can I get more information about disability data sources?

Our Disability Data Source User Guides are designed to provide researchers and others with information on key disability data sources. They provide a detailed description of the dataset, including historical background, sampling, strengths, limitations and unique features. Each guide includes the definitions of disability used as well as illustrative tabulations generated from the data source.

The Rehabilitation Dataset Directory provides information on over 100 datasets and a dozen data repositories containing disability data. The directory is a browse-able/searchable database providing an overview, description, sample, including links for accessing additional information and the data itself.

Definition of disability

There is no single, universally accepted definition of disability. Mashaw and Reno (1996) document over 20 definitions of disability used for purposes of entitlement to public or private income support programs, government services, or statistical analysis. An explicit goal of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Healthy People 2010 (HP2010) program is to include a standardized set of questions that identify people with disabilities in HP2010 surveillance instruments.

The most frequently applied framework of disability comes from Nagi (1969). This conceptualization views disability as difficulty performing socially expected activities such as work for pay, and explicitly recognizes the interaction of the environment and pathologies/impairments to cause disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rests upon the Nagi framework and recognizes that improvements in the environment (access to public transportation, workplace accommodations, etc.) can reduce disability and thus improve the inclusion of all people.

In Nagi's framework, the dynamic nature of the disability process is represented by the movement through four stages: pathology, impairment, functional limitation, and disability. The first stage, pathology, is the presence of a physical or mental condition, such as tinnitus, that interrupts the physical or mental process of the human body. Pathology may lead to the second stage, impairment, which Nagi defined as a physiological, anatomical, or mental loss that limits a person's capacity to function; for example, tinnitus limits the ability to hear sound- causing a hearing impairment. Impairment may lead to the third stage, functional limitation, which Nagi defines as a limitation in the performance or completion of a fundamental activity. For example, a person with hearing impairment may be limited in holding a telephone conversation. In the final stage, a functional limitation may lead to a disability, which is a limitation in performing roles and tasks that are socially expected. For example, a person limited in holding a telephone conversation may be limited in being employed-a work disability or work limitation.

As implied above, the connections between stages in this process are not inevitable, but these connections are related to other personal characteristics and physical and social environmental factors. These factors can be addressed via access to vocational rehabilitation services, universal design, assistive technology, personal assistance services, etc. For example, a person with a severe hearing impairment can be accommodated in the workplace with a TTY machine, such that there is no functional limitation or subsequent work disability.

The World Health Organization's International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) classification system is conceptually similar to the Nagi framework. The key to both these approaches is the recognition that individuals move from the presence of a health condition to a point at which the condition begins to impinge on activities that are socially expected of them, and that this movement is related to the environment in which individuals live. The table below provides an adaptation of a diagram from Jette and Badley (2000), who provide an excellent comparison of the two conceptualizations.

The incorporation of the measurements of disability process within surveys and administrative records is a very difficult task and there is no consensus as to the best approach. Developing such a consensus among government agencies is a goal of the Center for Disease Control's HealthyPeople 2010 benchmarking system and the efforts of the Interagency Subcommittee on Disability Statistics. An example of the benefits of interagency connections is the use of the Census2000 Long Form/American Community Survey (ACS) disability-related questions by a recent Department of Transportation (DOT) survey on transportation barriers for people with disabilities. This allows the DOT to draw inferences between their survey and the Census2000 and the ACS.

In the meantime, existing data sources are being collected using a variety of measures, which can be associated with various stages in the Nagi framework. The most common measure relates to work limitation. Although worded differently, work limitation-based questions appear in the Census 2000, American Community Survey (ACS), Current Population Survey (CPS), National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) and the Health and Retirement Survey (HRS). Questions about limitations in other activities appear in all these surveys, except the CPS. Questions relating to limitation in fundamental activities appear in the Census 2000, ACS, NHIS, MEPS, SIPP and HRS. Broad questions about impairment appear in the Census 2000 and ACS. Questions about select sets of specific pathologies and impairments appear in the SIPP, NHIS, MEPS and HRS.

All Current Population Survey Annual Demographic Supplement (CPS) statistics found on, are based on a work limitation-based definition of disability. The disability measure for work limitation in the CPS is based on the question "[d]oes anyone in this household have a health problem or disability which prevents them from working or which limits the kind or amount of work they can do? [If so,] who is that? (Anyone else?)"

The CPS question above was designed as a lead-in question to questions regarding sources of disability-related incomes. A criticism of this work limitation question is that it was not cognitively tested when it was developed, as was the case for most survey questions at that time. (See Hale 2001). However, Burkhauser, Daly, Houtenville and Nargis (2002) show that time-trends in the employment of people with disabilities, as measured in the CPS using a work limitation-based definition, are not statistically different from time-trends in the employment of people with disabilities as measured in the NHIS using a work limitation-based definition or impairment-based definition to identify the population with disabilities. A more detailed discussion of this and other issues relating to the measurement of the employment outcomes of people with disabilities is provided by Burkhauser, Houtenville and Wittenburg (2003). The CPS question was altered in 2014, creating a break in the time trend from that point onward.

Why do the ACS numbers on this web site differ from the Census Bureau?

According to the Census Bureau estimates from the ACS Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) file are expected to differ slightly from the ACS summary tables produced by the Census Bureau because they are subject to additional sampling error and further data processing operations. (See

Minor discrepancies may be due to one or more of the following reasons:

Sampling error

  • The Census Bureau estimates are based on the full ACS sample.
  • As a result of selecting the PUMS housing and person records through an additional stage of sampling.
  • Disability Statistics are based on the Census Bureau's ACS PUMS data files, which contains a sub-sample of all participating households.

Census Bureau confidentiality edits to the Microdata file

  • To maintain the confidentiality of the data, the Census Bureau applies certain techniques to assure that published data do not disclose information about specific individuals, households, or housing units.

Population "universe" differences

  • Many Census Bureau table estimates are limited to the civilian population
  • estimates do not include that limitation

Why do I find different estimates of the number or percentage of people with disabilities on this website?

Answer: There are several reasons for differences in reported numbers or percentages of people with disabilities, including different definitions of disability, changes in the disability questions used over time, different data sources, different year or times of the year, different age groups, and different base populations (i.e., civilians only, institutionalized population). Go to the definition of disability, Data Source for the measures used in the different surveys, or the Glossary of this website to find a specific definition.

Unemployment rate does NOT equal 100% minus employment rate.

There is often confusion between the employment rate and unemployment rate. This confusion is understandable. The employment rate is the percentage of all persons who have a job:

Employment Rate = (Number of persons who have a job) × 100
(Number of persons)

The unemployment rate is the percentage of persons in the labor force who do not have a job:

Unemployment Rate = (Number of persons who do not have a job but are actively looking for work) × 100,
(Number of persons in the labor force)

where the labor force includes people who have a job, are on layoff, or who actively searched for work in the last four weeks. Notice that all persons are used in the calculation of the employment rate, while only persons in the labor force are used in the calculation of the unemployment rates; i.e. the base populations of the two measures are different.

Consider the following questions. Should a full-time college student who does not hold a job be considered unemployed? Should a full-time retiree be considered unemployed? Neither is working in the labor market and both are considered to be out of the labor force, unless they are actively searching for a job. The inset boxes below contain the definitions used by the Census Bureau and definition used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Monthly Current Population Survey.

Journalists, researchers and government officials typically refer to the unemployment rate when describing the state of the economy. The unemployment rate is a measure of the tightness of the labor market; i.e., how hard it is to find a job. In contrast, researchers and government agencies often report the employment rate when describing economic disparities between two groups, such as people with and without disabilities. The unemployment rate may under-represent economic disparities between people with and without disabilities, because people with disabilities may be less likely to be in the labor force, especially those participating in government-sponsored training programs and disability-related Social Security programs.

These two measures often are used in concert to make the point that the overall economy is doing well but employment participation of people with disabilities is lagging behind. For instance, the following statement is correct but misleading, “[t]he unemployment rate is at a historic low of 4.5 percent. But a recent survey suggests that only around 30 percent of people with disabilities are employed.” Similar statements have been made by officials and researchers, and have appeared in the media. From such a statement, it would be tempting to erroneously assume that the unemployment rate of people with disabilities is 70 percent (i.e., 100 percent minus 30 percent). This is not the case:

 Number of persons who do not have a
  job but are actively looking for work
 × 100     ≠ 100 –    Number of persons who have a job  × 100  
 Number of persons in the labor force  Number of persons
Unemployment Rate   Employment Rate

Indeed, the employment rate of people with disabilities has hovered around 30 percent over the last two decades, and it is often incorrectly stated that the unemployment rate of people with disabilities is 70 percent. Earliest references to such a figure date back to the 1980s.

To further illustrate this issue, it is helpful to look at some actual numbers, which are provided in Table 1. Based on information from the 2002 Current Population Survey, an estimated 2,809,000 out of the 13,474,000 non-institutionalized civilians aged 18-64 who report a work-limiting health problem or disability are employed. This translates into an employment rate of 20.8 percent. Similarly, an estimated 3,269,000 out of the 13,474,000 non-institutionalized civilians aged 18-64 who report a work limiting health problem or disability are in the labor force (i.e., 24.3 percent of all persons in the labor forces). Of these 3,269,000 persons in the labor force, 460,000 persons are not employed (on layoff or actively searching for work in the last four weeks). This translates into an unemployment rate of 14.1 percent for non-institutionalized civilians aged 18-64 who report a work limiting health problem or disability. This is quite different from the often-cited unemployment rate of 70 percent for people with disabilities. Of course, it is nearly three times larger than the unemployment rate of non-institutionalized civilians aged 18-64 who do not report a work limiting health problem or disability, which is 5.8 percent.

The crux of the issue is what to do with people who are not working but would rather be working, but are not actively searching for work. The traditional definition of the unemployment rate is not well-suited to identify the economic participation of people with disabilities. The main source of the confusion is the comparison of the historically low unemployment rate in the overall economy to the employment rate for people with disabilities.

A detailed discussion of this and other issues relating to the measurement of the outcomes of people with disabilities is provided by Burkhauser, Houtenville, and Wittenburg (2003).

ACS Employment Definition

Employed Persons

This category includes all civilians 16 years old and over who either (1) were “at work,” that is, those who did any work at all during the reference week as paid employees, worked in their own business or profession, worked on their own farm, or worked 15 hours or more as unpaid workers on a family farm or in a family business; or (2) were “with a job but not at work,” that is, those who did not work during the reference week but had jobs or businesses from which they were temporarily absent due to illness, bad weather, industrial dispute, vacation, or other personal reasons. Excluded from the employed are people whose only activity consisted of work around the house or unpaid volunteer work for religious, charitable, and similar organizations.

Unemployed Persons

All civilians 16 years old and over are classified as unemployed if they (1) were neither “at work” nor “with a job but not at work” during the reference week, and (2) were actively looking for work during the last 4 weeks, and (3) were available to start a job. Also included as unemployed are civilians who did not work at all during the reference week, were waiting to be called back to a job from which they had been laid off, and were available for work except for temporary illness. Examples of job seeking activities are:

  • Registering at a public or private employment office
  • Meeting with prospective employers
  • Investigating possibilities for starting a professional practice or opening a business
  • Placing or answering advertisements
  • Writing letters of application
  • Being on a union or professional register

What was the Census 2000 disability measurement issue?

Answer: The 2000 Census Long-Form contains six questions related to type of disability. The Census Bureau provides a variety of statistics for these populations—population size, prevalence rates, employment rates, and poverty rates. However, there are serious problems with some Census 2000 disability results. These issues also occurred in the 2000-2002 American Community Survey that utilized the Census 2000 long form survey instrument.

The six disability-related questions asked on Census 2000 Long-Form were

16. Does this person have any of the following long-lasting conditions:

  1. Blindness, deafness, or a severe vision or hearing impairment?
  2. A condition that substantially limits one or more basic physical activities such as walking, climbing stairs, reaching, lifting, or carrying?

17. Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition lasting 6 months or more, does this person have any difficulty in doing any of the following activities:

  1. Learning, remembering, or concentrating?
  2. Dressing, bathing, or getting around inside the home?
  3. (Answer if this person is 16 YEARS OLD OR OVER.) Going outside the home alone to shop or visit a doctors office?
  4. (Answer if this person is 16 YEARS OLD OR OVER.) Working at a job or business?

The Census Bureau uses the questions above to define six disability sub-populations: (16a) sensory disability, (16b) physical disability, (17a) mental disability, (17b) self-care disability, (17c) go-outside-home disability, and (17d) employment disability. Persons answering "yes" to at least one of these questions are considered to have a disability.

Preliminary analysis by the Census Bureau (Stern, 2003) found a difference in the responses to the last two questions (17c and 17d) between people who mailed in the long-form and those who were interviewed in person. This difference is likely due to a design problem with the interview form. During an oral interview, questions 17c and 17d were not explicitly connected with the lead statement “because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition does this person have difficulty in doing any of the following activities?” Therefore some respondents may have reported being able to go outside and able to work at a job or business, as opposed to having difficulty doing so.

As mentioned previously, the 2000-2002 American Community Survey (ACS) utilized the same disability questions as the Census 2000. In 2003 the Census Bureau slightly modified the disability questions in ACS survey by repeating the lead-in question prior to the go-outside the home and employment disability questions. Analysis of the 2003 ACS data (Stern and Brault, 2005) found a decrease in the employment and go-outside-home disability prevalence rates for both enumerated and mailback survey data. This result suggested that the problem of respondents misunderstanding/mis-answering those two disability questions was not limited to only the in-person interviews but also affected the Census 2000 and ACS 2000-2002 mail-back survey data.

The implications of this design problem for the Census 2000 and ACS 2000-2002 survey results are as follows: (1) the go-outside-home disability and employment disability population estimates are likely to be higher than they would otherwise have been, (2) the overall estimate of the population with disabilities is likely to be higher than it would otherwise have been, and (3) the overall estimate of the employment rate of people with disabilities is likely to be higher than it would have been without the design problem, because the population with disabilities includes working people without disabilities.

The problem only affects calculations of general disability and the two questions noted. Sensory, physical, mental and self-care disability calculations are unaffected. In addition, the design problem does not have an impact on those under the age of 16 since these two questions did not apply to those under 16.

In response to this error, we are only reporting statistics that utilize information from the first four questions. Census Bureau has posted new national- and state-level statistics (but not local-level statistics) for the population that reports physical disability, sensory disability, mental disability, and/or self-care disability. (Go to

The Census Bureau issued official comments on enumerator issue. Go to page vi and pages 35-36 of the following document:

Stern, S. (2003). Counting People With Disabilities: How Survey Methodology Influences Estimates in Census 2000 And The Census 2000 Supplementary Survey. Census Bureau Staff Research Report. Washington DC: U.S. Census Bureau, Poverty and Health Statistics Branch. Retrieved April 19, 2005 from

Stern, S., & Brault, M. (2005, January 28). Disability Data from the American Community Survey: A Brief Examination of the Effects of a Question Redesign in 2003. Census Bureau Staff Research Report. Washington DC:U.S. Census Bureau, Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division. Retrieved April 19, 2005 from

Where can I get more ACS disability estimates?

Answer: The Census Bureau has many disability-related tables available on

To access the Census Bureau ACS disability-related tables go to - this will provide a list of all the disability related Census Bureau tables.

There are two basic options depending on the population in the geography of interest. The “1 year estimate tables” are available for most areas with populations over 60,000 people. The “5-year estimate tables” combines 5 years of sample to develop estimates for areas with smaller populations.

Below are direct links to two of the most basic ACS Census tables:

  • Table S1810: Disability Characteristics: provides prevalence estimates and rates by disability type, age, race and ethnicity.
  • Table S1811: Selected Economic Characteristics for the Civilian Noninstitutionalized Population by Disability Status. Provides employment information for the population ages 16 and older

Where does the 61 million Americans with a disability number come from?

Answer: The estimate of 61 million is based on the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a Center for Disease Control (CDC) survey. ( Why is the estimate so much higher than the ACS despite using the same set of questions? As noted by Mitra (2022) “…population estimate can vary considerably because of survey context, mode of administration, and potential sampling bias, particularly with telephone-based surveys.” Since the BRFSS is a CDC survey focusing almost exclusively on health issues it may “prime” respondents to think about health issues, thereby increasing the likelihood of positive responses to the disability questions. A Statistics Canada study (Rietschlin and MacKenzie, 2005) made a similar finding - disability prevalence was 2-3 times higher in health focused surveys than in an economic focused surveys, despite using exactly the same set of disability screener questions.


Burkhauser, R.V., Houtenville, A.J., & Wittenburg, D. (In press). A user guide to current statistics on the employment of people with disabilities. In R. V. Burkhauser & D. Stapleton (Eds.), The decline in the employment of people with disabilities: A policy puzzle. Kalamazoo, MI: W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

Burkhauser, R. V., Daly, M. C., Houtenville, A. J., & Nargis, N. (2002). Self-reported work limitation data: What they can and cannot tell us. Demography, 39(3), 541-555.

Hale, T. W. (2001). The lack of a disability measure in today's Current Population Survey. Monthly Labor Review, 124(6), 38.

Jette, A. M., & Badley, E. (2000). Conceptual issues in the measurement of work disability. In N. Mathiowetz & G. S. Wunderlich (Eds.), Survey measurement of work disability. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Mashaw, J., & Reno, V.P. (Eds.) (1996). Balancing security and opportunity: The challenge of disability income policy. Washington, DC: National Academy of Social Insurance.

Mitra, Monika & Long-Bellil, Linda & Moura, Ian & Miles, Angel & Kaye, H.. (2022). Advancing Health Equity And Reducing Health Disparities For People With Disabilities In The United States: Study examines health equity and health disparities for people with disabilities in the United States. Health Affairs. 41. 1379-1386. 10.1377/hlthaff.2022.00499.

Nagi, S. Z. (1969). Disability and Rehabilitation. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press.

Rietschlin J., MacKenzie A. (2005). Variation in disability rates in statistics Canada national surveys: Building policy on a slippery foundation.

Stern, S. (2003). Counting People With Disabilities: How Survey Methodology Influences Estimates in Census 2000 And The Census 2000 Supplementary Survey. Census Bureau Staff Research Report. Washington DC: U.S. Census Bureau, Poverty and Health Statistics Branch. Retrieved April 19, 2005 from

Stern, S., & Brault, M. (2005, January 28). Disability Data from the American Community Survey: A Brief Examination of the Effects of a Question Redesign in 2003. Census Bureau Staff Research Report. Washington DC:U.S. Census Bureau, Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division. Retrieved April 19, 2005 from