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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Resources for Employment Statistics

Investigators are advised that there are no perfect employment statistics currently available pertaining to Americans with vision loss. A primary limitation of the currently available nationally-representative data sources is that people with vision loss are often grouped together with all people who have sensory impairments. In other instances, people with vision loss are grouped together with all people who have a disability in communication. Consequently, Americans with vision loss cannot be separated from Americans who have other sensory impairments such as hearing loss, for example.

Several recommended resources for employment statistics are provided. Employment statistics pertaining to people with vision loss differ based on the scope and definitions of vision loss used, as well as on the dates the data were collected, populations surveyed, survey methodology, and other features of data sources. Please pay attention to information provided about the data source. The background information is necessary for the accurate interpretation and use of these data.

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Current Population Survey (CPS)

On February 6, 2009, for the first time, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) officially reported the Current Population Survey (CPS) employment data about people with disabilities. These data have been gathered since June, 2008 when six questions about disability were permanently added to the CPS, a monthly survey the federal government uses to estimate the unemployment level and rate in the United States.

This valid and reliable source of employment data pertaining to people with disabilities is exceptionally important and timely given our nation's focus on economic recovery and job stimulus. The importance of these data will grow over time because the data will be collected frequently and released each month. However, unless investigators adhere to recommendations for interpreting these data, these data pertaining to people with disabilities may be dangerously misleading.

For more information, check out AFB's full report about the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey located at www.afb.org/Section.asp?SectionID=15&SubTopicID=177.

2006 Disability Status Report

The most recent employment data is from the 2006 American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS is a continuous data collection effort conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau that is used to produce annual estimates at the national, state, and local level on the characteristics of the U.S. population.

Cornell University has mined and produced reports detailing the ACS data. The primary material is produced in the 2006 Disability Status Report. The 2006 Disability Status Report is available at www.disabilitystatistics.org as an online resource for disability statistics. Comparisons to the 2005 Disability Status Report are not advisable due to the inclusion of people living in non-institutionalized group quarters.

Please note that the 2006 ACS data grouped blind or severely visually impaired people together with all people who have sensory impairments. Therefore, characteristics of blind or severely visually impaired people cannot be assessed separately from the characteristics of people with other sensory impairments. There will be better information available in the fall of 2009 when the 2008 American Community Survey is released. In the 2008 ACS survey, the disability questions have been changed to include separate questions regarding vision and hearing loss.

An example employment statistic from the 2006 Disability Status Report is provided along with the pertinent background information necessary for the accurate interpretation and use of the data.

  • Employment statistic: According to the 2006 Disability Status Report, the employment rate of working-age Americans (ages 21-64) with sensory impairments was 47.5% percent. The employment rate is the percentage of all people who have a job.

  • Definition and scope: The term sensory disability refers to individuals who have any of the following long-lasting conditions: blindness, deafness, or a severe vision or hearing impairment. The sample included working-age Americans 21 to 64 years of age.

  • Data source: Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability Demographics and Statistics. (2007). 2006 Disability Status Report. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University. The report is based on data from the 2006 American Community Survey (ACS) collected by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Americans with Disabilities: 2002 Household Economic Studies

The U.S. Census Bureau report entitled, "Americans with Disabilities: 2002 Household Economic Studies" is a current and comprehensive data source. The report includes prevalence data for adults and children as well as employment data based on the 2002 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. Information provided includes employment, earnings, poverty status, program participation (SSI, Medicare) functional limitations, and disability types. Tables are provided by race, gender, and age. The report can be accessed at www.census.gov/prod/2006pubs/p70-107.pdf.

Please note that certain parts of the report grouped people who have difficulty seeing together with all people who have a disability in communication. In these instances, the characteristics of people who have difficulty seeing cannot be assessed separately from the characteristics of all people who have a disability in communication. People were identified as having a disability in a communication domain if they met any of the following criteria: (a) had difficulty seeing, hearing, or speaking; (b) were blind or deaf; or (c) identified one or more related conditions as the cause of a reported activity limitation (blindness or vision problem, deafness or hearing problem, or speech disorder).

An example employment statistic from the 2002 Household Economic Studies is provided along with the pertinent background information necessary for the accurate interpretation and use of the data.

  • Employment statistic: According to the 2002 Household Economic Studies, 55.3% of Americans 21 to 64 years of age who have difficulty seeing words or letters were employed.

  • Definition and scope: The statistic refers to Americans 21 to 64 years of age who have difficulty seeing small print in a newspaper even when wearing glasses if they normally wear them as well as people who are unable to see small print in a newspaper. The respondents were not necessarily legally blind, although some certainly were.

  • Data source: Americans with Disabilities: 2002 Household Economic Studies, Current Population Reports (Issued May 2006) by Erika Steinmetz, Dept of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau. The report is based on data from the 2002 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) collected by the Census Bureau.

Blind Adults in America: Their Lives and Challenges

This report is commonly referred to for employment statistics pertaining to legally blind American adults. "Blind Adults in America: Their Lives and Challenges" is available at www.center4research.org/blind0204.html.

The report is based on data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS)--Disability Supplement, 1994-95.

  • Employment statistic: According to "Blind Adults in America: Their Lives and Challenges," 19% of legally blind adult Americans (18 years of age and older) were employed.

  • Definition and scope: The term legally blind refers to adults who reported that they were legally blind, or whose family member reported that they were legally blind, in response to a direct question asking "Are you [or is he or she] legally blind?" Legal blindness is a level of vision loss that has been defined by law to determine eligibility for benefits. It refers to central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best possible correction, or a visual field of 20 degrees or less. The sample included Americans 18 years of age and older. Please also note that although this is a 2004 report, it is based on data gathered by the NHIS Disability Supplement in 1994-1995.

  • Data source: Diana M. Zuckerman, 2004. Blind Adults in America: Their Lives and Challenges. Washington, DC: National Center for Policy Research for Women & Families. The report is based on data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS)--Disability Supplement, 1994-95.

National Longitudinal Transition Study

The original National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS) and NLTS2 are recommended resources. Information about these nationally-representative data sets can be found at www.nlts2.org.

The NLTS2 is a follow up of the original NLTS. The NLTS2 includes 12,000 youth receiving special education who were ages 13 through 16 and in at least 7th grade at the start of the study in 2000. Data is being collected over 10 years from parents, youth, and schools. The NLTS2 will provide a national picture of the experiences and achievements of young people as they transition into early adulthood. Reports are now available based on the findings of the initial years of the NLTS2. Information about employment after high school can be found in the reports.

Examples of employment statistics from the first two waves of data collection under the NLTS2 are provided along with the pertinent background information necessary for the accurate interpretation and use of the data.

  • Employment statistic: According to the NLTS2 data reports, 28.3% (wave 1) and 28.4% (wave 2) of out-of-school youth with visual impairments were employed at the time they were interviewed.

  • Definition and scope: These statistics refer to out-of-school youth with visual impairments who participated in the first two waves of data collection for the second National Longitudinal Transition Study, which will not be completed until 2010. The term visual impairment refers to an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child's educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness.

  • Data source: Wagner, M., Newman, L., Cameto, R., Garza, N., and Levine, P. (2005). After High School: A First Look at the Postschool Experiences of Youth with Disabilities. A Report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) Menlo Park, CA: SRI International. Available at www.nlts2.org/reports/2005_04/nlts2_report_2005_04_complete.pdf .

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