Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

U.S. Residents with Disability: Does It Matter Where They Were Born and What Is Their Ancestry?

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

U.S. Residents with Disability: Does It Matter Where They Were Born and What Is Their Ancestry?

Article excerpt

"Approximately 56.7 million people living in the United States had some kind of disability in 2010. This accounted for 18.7 percent of the 303.9 million people in the civilian noninstitutionalized population that year. About 12.6 percent or 38.3 million people had a severe disability." 1


A stream of these almost unbelievable national numbers of residents with disabilities frequently is used to draw attention to the increasing need for services for this population. These meganumbers frequently are followed by more specific characteristic analysis for the types of disabilities by population age, gender, race/ethnicity, employment, poverty rates and a seemingly endless array of additional factors. The critical intent of these demographic studies is not just to dramatize these numbers, but to stratify information which could lead to prevention and curative efforts.

The U.S. Census Bureau activities range well beyond the collection of population information for the 10 year census required by the Constitution to assess and rearrange the membership of the House of Representatives in accordance with state residency totals. For example, components of the annual American Community Survey provide detailed information beyond the "standard" demographics of individuals with disabilities. Specifically, in addition to recording the numbers, age, gender, race/ethnicity, etc., the Community Survey details the types and severity of disabilities, as well as the place of birth (i.e. the United States or many foreign countries) and the reported ancestry of individuals with disabilities. (2) Once again, this is not "just" for numbers sake, but rather to gather information which could add to the potential for prevention and care.

However, as with all survey developed information, accuracy of information may be limited, particularly with regard to race/ethnicity and ancestry. Since 1989, the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tabulated birth data according to the mother's race. "The racial and ethnic categories set forth in the standard should not be interpreted as being primarily biological or genetic in reference. Race and ethnicity may be thought of in terms of social and cultural characteristics as well as ancestry. The category which most closely reflects the individual's recognition in his community should be used for purposes of reporting on persons who are of mixed racial and/or ethnic origins." (3)

Now add the fact that each of us tends to interpret survey questions from their own perspective. For example, on St. Patrick's Day there are probably more people who claim Irish ancestry than their particular ancestors could have stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the Island. Then there are the Italians, the Germans, and in Australia there are more claimed descendants of the original prison colony that could have reached those shores by the entire fleet of today's modern cruise ships. In addition to all that, one of us (HBW) claims to be Bessarabian (now called Moldova) based upon his father's birthplace. He seldom mentions that his mother was born in Poland.


In 2012, 12.2 percent (or 37.6 million individuals) of the civilian non-institutionalized population living in the United States was reported to have one or more severe disabilities.

* The proportion of the population with severe disabilities increased with age.

* About 90 percent of the population with severe disabilities was born in the U.S.

* 12.6 percent of the population born in the U.S. was reported to have one or more severe disabilities; compared to 9.3percent of the overall U.S. population born in foreign countries.

* Among children less than 18 years, the proportion with severe disabilities born in the U.S. (4.1 %) was higher than rates for children born on all other continents and in a convenience random sample of countries. …

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