Children and Adults with Disabilities in Puerto Rico

By Waldman, H. Barry; Perlman, Steven P. | The Exceptional Parent, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Children and Adults with Disabilities in Puerto Rico


Waldman, H. Barry, Perlman, Steven P., The Exceptional Parent


The phrase that there are "more than 50 million individuals in the United States with disabilities" is repeated and repeated and repeated in the professional and lay literature to the point that one might consider it a mantra. Yet, there is limited attention to the reality that in Puerto Rico there is a greater proportion of individuals with disabilities than in any state, with a greater proportion in each age group and for each disabling condition.

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the Northeast Caribbean. It comprises an archipelago that includes the main island of Puerto Rico and a number of smaller islands, the largest of which are Vieques, Culebra and Mona. In 2010, it had a population of almost 3.7 million residents, including 736,000 (19.7%) with disabilities, compared with 11.1% for the District of Columbia (the only other large population non-state area) and 11.9% nationally. The proportion of the population with disabilities in Puerto Rico increases with age from 1.1% for the -----5 year population to 70.6% for the 75 years and older senior population. The proportion with disabilities among 75 years and older Puerto Rican residents is between more than one-third and one-half times greater than comparable population rates in the District of Columbia and U.S. total. Similarly, among children (-----18 years) the proportion with disabilities in Puerto Rico is 1.8 times greater than the national average. (Table 1)

TABLE 1: Prevalence rates of disabilities in Puerto Rico, the
District of Colombia and the United States by age: 2010 (1)

             Puerto Rico  Dist. of Col.  United States

< 5 yrs             1.1%           1.2%           0.8%
5-17 yrs             9.7            8.4            5.2
18-64 yrs           16.8            8.7           10.0
65+ yrs             52.0           34.0           36.7
75+ yrs             70.6           45.9           50.8
Total               19.7           11.1           11.9

* Except for the Asian population with a disability rate of 11.3%, the approximately one-in-five proportion of the population with disabilities in Puerto Rico is basically the same for all racial and Hispanic groupings. (Table 2)

TABLE 2: Proportion of PR residents with disability by
gender & race/ethnicity: 2010 (1)

Gender            Percent

Male                 0.1%
Female               20.9
           ***
Race/ethnicity
White                19.0
Black                20.6
Asian                11.3
Native Americans     18.2
Other races          18.7
Hispanic             20.5

* Ambulatory and independent living disabilities, followed by cognitive disabilities are the most predominant disabilities among the Puerto Rican population. (Table 3)

TABLE 3: Proportion of PR residents by types
of disability: 2010 (2)

Visual              6.7%
Hearing              4.2
Ambulatory          11.3
Cognitive            9.6
Self-care            4.1
Independent living  11.5

Children (----- 16 years)

Compared to national averages, a greater percent of children in Puerto Rico had disabilities, including a greater percent of each type of disability.

* Children less than 5 years: Compared to 0.7% of children nationally, 1.3% of children in Puerto Rico--3,100 youngsters, had one or more disabilities. (0.4% nationally and 0. …

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