February 28, 2001

Nearly 1 in 5 persons -- 53 million people -- said they had some level of disability in 1997, while 1 in 8 -- 33 million -- reported they had a severe disability, according to a report released today by the Commerce Department's Census Bureau.

These data should not be confused with results of Census 2000, which are being released over the next three years.

"Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, the Census Bureau has collected data that make it possible to relate disability status to a range of other variables, including income, employment, health insurance
coverage and the receipt of program benefits," said Census Bureau analyst Sharon Stern about the report, Americans With Disabilities: 1997.

The Census Bureau defines a person with a disability as someone who has difficulty in performing functional tasks or daily living activities or meets other criteria, such as a learning or developmental disability. People are considered to have a severe disability if they are completely unable to perform one or more of these tasks or activities, need personal assistance or have one of the severe conditions described in the report.

The report found that the presence of a severe disability brings with it an increased likelihood of receiving welfare benefits, having low levels of income and being more likely to live in poverty. Also, individuals with a severe
disability are less likely to be covered by health insurance than those with no disability. Among people 25-to-64 years of age having a severe disability, only 48 percent had health coverage, compared with 80 percent for people with a
nonsevere disability and 82 percent of those with no disability.

Other highlights:

- Among the population age 15 and over, 25 million had difficulty walking a quarter of a mile or climbing a flight of 10 stairs or they used an ambulatory aid, such as a wheelchair (2.2 million) or a cane, crutches or a walker (6.4 million).

- About 18 million individuals age 15 and over had difficulty lifting and carrying a 10-pound bag of groceries or grasping small objects.

- About 7.7 million people age 15 and over had difficulty seeing the words and letters in ordinary newspaper print (even with glasses).

- About 14.3 million people age 15 and over had a mental disability, including 1.9 million with Alzheimer's disease, senility or dementia; and 3.5 million with a learning disability.

- The poverty rate among the population 25-to-64 years old with no disability was 8 percent, compared with 10 percent for people with a nonsevere disability and 28 percent for people with a severe disability.

- In 1997, 9.7 million people age 16 to 64 had a disability that prevented them from working and another 7.2 million were limited as to the kind or amount of work they could do.

These data were collected in late 1997 from approximately 32,000 households in the panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation that started in 1996. As in all surveys, these data are subject to sampling variability and
other sources of error.

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