Disability in the United States

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Americans with disabilities are one of the largest minority groups in the United States. Although the US does not have universal healthcare, Americans with disabilities can generally find adequate levels of subsidized support from a variety of sources, generally at the regional level. While most rural areas — especially in the Great Plains region — have little or no government-organized medical support infrastructure for the permanently disabled indigent population, most major urban centers have healthcare systems. The rights of Americans with disabilities are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.


According to the Disability Status: 2000 - Census 2000 Brief approximately 20% of Americans have one or more diagnosed psychological or physical disability:

Census 2000 counted 49.7 million people with some type of long lasting condition or disability. They represented 19.3 percent of the 257.2 million people who were aged 5 and older in the civilian non-institutionalized population -- or nearly one person in five..."[1]

This percentage varies depending on how disabilities are defined. According to Census Brief 97-5, "About 1 in 5 Americans have some kind of disability, and 1 in 10 have a severe disability."[2]

African Americans[edit]

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the African American community has the highest rate of disability in the United States at 20.8 percent, slightly higher than the overall disability rate of 19.4%.[3] Given these statistics, it can be suggested that African Americans with disabilities experience the most severe underemployment, unemployment, and under education compared to other disability groups.[4]


Investigations on the "poverty and disability nexus" [5][6][7][8] have consistently shown poverty and disability are correlated for all race-ethnic groups within the US.

Discrimination in employment[edit]

The US Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires all organizations that receive government funding to provide accessibility programs and services. A more recent law, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which came into effect in 1992, prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, or in the terms, conditions and privileges of employment. This includes organizations like retail businesses, movie theaters, and restaurants. They must make reasonable accommodation to people with different needs. Protection is extended to anyone with (A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an individual, (B) a record of such an impairment, or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment. The second and third criteria are seen as ensuring protection from unjust discrimination based on a perception of risk, just because someone has a record of impairment or appears to have a disability or illness (e.g. features which may be erroneously taken as signs of an illness). Employment protection laws make discrimination against qualified individuals with a disability illegal and may also require provision of reasonable accommodation.[9] Reasonable accommodations includes changes in the physical environment like making facilities more accessible but also include increasing job flexibility like job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules or reassignment to vacant position. Though many hold attitudes that are more enlightened and informed than past years, the word “disability” carries few positive connotations for most employers. Negative attitudes by employers toward potential employees with disabilities can lead to misunderstanding and discrimination.[10]

Social Security Administration[edit]

The US Social Security Administration (SSA), defines disability in terms of an individual's inability to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA), by which it means “work paying minimum wage or better”. The agency pairs SGA with a list of medical conditions that qualify individuals for disability benefits.

The SSA makes available to disabled Americans two forms of disability benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance, (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Social Security pays disability benefits to citizens who have worked long enough and have a medical condition that has prevented them from working or is expected to prevent them from working for at least 12 months or end in death.[11]


Before the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was passed, children with disabilities were segregated into separate schools designed to meet their needs. These programs were on a fixed continuum that placed the child into the desired program based on the results of an assessment. Disabled children were kept separate from other children. In these special schools, children were treated like disabled children but not included in activities in which other children were able to participate.[12]

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the school district must provide every disabled child with an Individualized Education Plan or IEP. The IEP is compiled with a team of administrators and guardians who evaluate goals for the child and determine what needs to be done in order for those goals to be met.[13]


It is illegal for California insurers to refuse to provide car insurance to properly licensed drivers solely because they have a disability.[14] It is also illegal for them to refuse to provide car insurance "on the basis that the owner of the motor vehicle to be insured is blind,"[15] but they are allowed to exclude coverage for injuries and damages incurred while a blind unlicensed owner is actually operating the vehicle (the law is apparently structured to allow blind people to buy and insure cars which their friends, family, and caretakers can drive for them).[14]


  1. ^ Disability Status: 2000 - Census 2000 Brief (PDF) (Report). US Census Bureau. March 2003. 
  2. ^ Disabilities Affect One-Fifth of All Americans (PDF). Census Brief (Report) (US Census Bureau). December 1997. 
  3. ^ Americans with Disabilities in 2002 (PDF). Population Profile of the United States: Dynamic Version (Report) (U.S. Census Bureau). Retrieved June 19, 2013. 
  4. ^ Alston, Reginald J.; Russo, Charles J.; Miles, Albert S. (1994). "Brown v. Board of Education and the American with Disabilities Act: Vistas of equal educational opportunities for African Americans". Journal of Negro Education 63 (3). 
  5. ^ Siordia C & Ramos AK. (2015). Risk for Disability and Poverty amongst “Central Asians” in the United States. Central Asian Journal of Global Health, in-press.
  6. ^ Siordia C. (2015). Prevalence of Self-Care and Ambulatory Disability in Baby Boom and Generation-X Birth-Cohorts by Intersectional Markers of Social Stratification. Journal of Race and Social Problems, 10.1007/s12552-015-9155-4.
  7. ^ Siordia C. (2015). A Multilevel Analysis of Mobility Disability in the United States Population: Educational Advantage Diminishes as Race-Ethnicity Poverty Gap Increases. Journal of Studies in Social Science, 12(2): 198-219.
  8. ^ Siordia C & Ramos AK. (2015). Evidence of the “Hispanic Paradox” from the Poverty and Disability Nexus in the Latino Farmworker Population of the United States. Global Journal of Biology, Agriculture & Health Sciences, in-press.
  9. ^ Burkhauser, Richard V.; Schmeiser, Maximilian D.; Weathers II, Robert R. (Jan 2012). "The Importance of Anti-Discrimination and Workers' Compensation Laws on the Provision of Workplace Accommodations Following the Onset of a Disability". Industrial & Labor Relations Review 65 (1). doi:10.1177/001979391206500109. 
  10. ^ Darling, Peter (Aug 2007). "Disabilities and the Workplace". Business NH Magazine 24 (8): 28. 
  11. ^ "Social Security - Disability Benefits" (PDF). Social Security Administration. May 2015. 
  12. ^ Mike Cole, ed. (2005). Education, equality and human rights : issues of gender, race, sexuality, disability and social class (2nd ed.). London: Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-415-35660-1. 
  13. ^ Brizuela, Gabriela (2011). "Making an "IDEA" a Reality: Providing a Free and Appropriate Public Education for Children with Disabilities Under the Individuals with Dsabilities Education Act". Valparaiso University Law Review 45. Retrieved 7 August 2015. 
  14. ^ a b "California Code - Article 5: Motor Vehicle Liability Insurance". Codes.lp.findlaw.com. Retrieved 2015-08-07. 
  15. ^ "CAL. INS. CODE § 11628.7 : California Code - Section 11628.7". Codes.lp.findlaw.com. Retrieved 2015-08-07. 

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