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Does the Census do justice to people with disabilities?
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Jan. 13, 2004 -- No; says the National Council on Disabilities in a report released last week (online at )

A major problem with Census data, says NCD, is that it is still based on the "medical-model" of disability, which focuses on "the functional impairments of the individual" rather than "societal barriers to full participation" In 2000, the year of the last Census, "the vast majority of data collection activities of the Federal Government retained the medical bias," says NCD. "Questions in the Census survey focused on the individual's impairment and functional level but failed to identify barriers in society and the environment -- such as discrimination and lack of accommodations in the workplace -- that were potential obstacles to employment, assuming instead that the obstacles to employment resided solely with the individual as a result of the impairment itself."

The Census's disability data has other problems, noted the The Washington Post in a story on the report: NCD criticized the Census Bureau for "not collecting numbers on children younger than 6 with disabilities, though a separate survey the year before found that nearly 650,000 young children had a disability." (Read the story at

Why is it important?

"The Census is usually the only available source of disability data for the evaluation of conditions at the state and local level," says NCD. "Inaccuracies in the Census count ... can cause federal funds to be distributed in a way that is not fully consistent with congressional intent," adding that "there is no statutory mandate that the Census Bureau ensure an accurate enumeration of all Americans with disabilities through the Decennial Census."

The way the federal government collects data can have an impact on other data collection and analysis as well. The day after the Council released its report, the Rand Corp. released a study also based on the "medical model" of disability; the Rand study cited obesity as a major reason that the "number of disabled Americans in their 30s and 40s increased dramatically over the past 20 years." More about the Rand study is online at

More about statistics and demographics from our website at

More about the 2000 Census's disability findings from our website at

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