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Office on Disability

  • Many Americans will experience disability first hand.
  • While all disabilities are as different as the individuals who experience them, the challenges and opportunities for persons with disabilities often are similar.

Disability is neither inability nor sickness

  • Most persons with disabilities are as healthy as people who don’t have disabilities; however, persons with disabilities are, however, at greater risk for illness
  • Most people with disabilities can and do work, play, learn and enjoy full healthy lives in their communities.
  • One of the key challenges for a person with a disability is to be seen by the public, to be portrayed in the media, treated by health care professionals, as an individual with abilities, and not just seen as a disability.

Disability can become a fact of life for anyone at any time.   

  • Today, 54 million people in the United States are living in the community with a disability.  That’s one in every five people. According to the most recent census data, around 52 million of them reside in the community (US Census Bureau 2002). Additionally, about 2 million people live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
  • Some people are born with a disability; some people get sick or have an accident that results in a disability; and some people develop a disability as they age. 
  • The reality is that just about everyone – women, men and children of all ages, races and ethnicities – will experience a disability some time during his or her lifetime.
  • As we age, the likelihood of having a disability of some kind increases. The likelihood of having a disability increased with age. For those 45 to 54 years old, 22.6 percent have some form of disability; for those 65 to 69 years old, the comparable estimate is 44.9 percent; and for the oldest age group, 80 years old and over, the prevalence of disability is estimated to be 73.6 percent.


Figure 2: Prevalence of Disability by Age Group, 1997 - bar graph

TABLE:  Population, Age 5 and over

CharacteristicTotal Total %
Population, Age 5 and over257,167,527100.0
With any disability49,746,24819.3

TABLE:  Population, Ages 5-15

CharacteristicTotal Total %
Population, Ages 5-1545,133,687100.0
With any disability2,614,9195.8

TABLE:  Population, Ages 5-15

CharacteristicTotal Total %
Population, Ages 16-64178,687,234100.0
With any disability33,153,21118.6
Difficulty going out11,414,5086.4
Employment disability21,287,57011.9

TABLE:  Population, Age 65 and Over

CharacteristicTotal Total %
Population, Age 65 and Over33,346,626100.0
With any disability13,978,11841.9
Difficulty going out8,795,51720.4