More than one in five Americans have at least one disability, a figure significantly higher than previous thought, according to a new Center for Disease Control report.
The study, released July 31, distinguished between five different categories of disability: mobility, cognition, independent living, vision and self-care. Thirteen percent of the population reported having a mobility disability, the highest of any of the categories. The next largest category was cognition, with 10.6 percent of people reported they have an intellectual disability, followed by independent living, vision and self-care.
“We are all at risk of having a disability at some point in our lifetime,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a news release. “Health professionals and health care systems need to meet the needs of this growing population.”
The CDC data showed wide discrepancies in disabilities between states. For example, 31.5 percent of people in Alabama reported having a disability, compared to 16.4 percent of people in Minnesota. In general, states in the South reported higher rates of disability, while states in the Midwest and West had lower rates.
A higher proportion women than men reported having a disability, by a rate of 24.4 percent to 19.8 percent.
Although the CDC first began reporting state-level disability data in 2000, a provision in the Affordable Care Act provided new guidance for how the CDC should collect and assemble the data. This year’s report, which is based off 2013 data, is the first time the CDC has used the five category system, as well as the first time it surveyed all 50 states.
The one-in-five figure is likely a conservative estimate because the data is from telephone surveys of the non-institutionalized population, meaning that it does not include people in nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals, jails and other facilities with high rates of people with disabilities.
Other limitations include the fact that the data is self-reported, disparities in the response rates between states, and that the people questioned were asked if they have “serious” disabilities, which could mean that some people may have understated their disabilities.