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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

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The Impact of Age and Health on the Employment of People who are Blind or Visually Impaired

The information presented here includes statistics collected in 1994 and 1995 on the employment of people ages 18-69 who were legally blind or had other severe visual impairments. The discussion shows how these figures can be interpreted and their implications for public policy.

Investigators should note that the data are from the 1994 and1995 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) Disability Supplement. There has not been a comparable or more useful nationally representative survey for disability research since the NHIS Disability Supplement was conducted in 1994 and 1995. Even though the resulting data from the 1994 and 1995 NHIS Disability Supplement is now outdated, disability advocates and researchers still refer to the numbers provided by the 1994 and 1995 NHIS Disability Supplement. In this report, the implications for public policy are still timely. Other national surveys that are conducted on a regular basis do not address significant issues that were assessed by the disability supplement. There has not been a nationally representative survey that explicitly assessed the number of Americans who are legally blind since the 1994 and 1995 NHIS Disability Supplement. Key issues surrounding legal blindness, such as employment of adults who are legally blind, also have not been assessed by a nationally representative survey since the 1994 and 1995 NHIS Disability Supplement.

What do the data show?

Legally Blind: . . .32% employed in 1994-95
Other Visually Impaired: . . .46% employed in 1994-95

To Compare: Sighted Public: . .74% employed (Includes people with non-visual impairments) in 1994-95.

But - the sighted public are, as a group, both a) younger, and b) in better health than are people who are legally blind, or especially, than are people with other visual impairments.

Policy Relevance

Surprisingly, policymakers have not given AGE and HEALTH STATUS serious attention when it comes to understanding employment of people who are blind or visually impaired. This report looks at those factors with recently-available strong national survey data. For the first time ever, we can describe statistics on employment of legally blind people nationally, separately from other people with severe visual impairment.

Where are the data from?

-National survey by National Center for Health Statistics in 1994-95; data released in 1998

-We defined "working ages" as 18 through 69 years old

-People self-reported whether they had "Serious difficulty seeing, even with glasses" or were "Legally blind"

Effect of Age

Legally blind: Almost one-half of legally blind people in the "prime working ages" of 22 to 50 years old, were employed in 1994-95. Under one-quarter of those 50 to 59 years were employed, and only one-tenth of those over 60 were employed.

Other Visually Impaired: Over three-fifths of visually impaired people in the "prime working ages" of 22 to 50 years old, were employed in 1994-95. About two-fifths of those 50 to 59 years were employed, and only about one-fifth of those over 60 were employed.

Policy Points

Don't lump age groups together in reporting employment statistics. That gives a wrong impression of no progress resulting from civil rights legislation such as the Rehabilitation Act, IDEA (The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

Consider policy responses to each of the many reasons that age makes a difference...

... a generation of better access to education;

... age discrimination against older persons;

... more economic disincentives for those closer to retirement;

...fewer "blindness skills" among late-blinded adults.

...health problems increase with age.

Effect of Health

Now add the health factor. Realize that some blind people are in excellent to good health at every age. But health is a bigger problem for them than for the sighted public.

Legally Blind: The data show that legally blind people, under 55 years old and in "excellent" health: fully 60% were employed.

But, if their health was "poor," even under age 55, only 5% were employed.

Other Visually Impaired: The data show that other visually impaired people, under age 55 and in "excellent" or "very good" health: 83% were employed! (That's right - actually the same as the Sighted Public in that age and health category.)

However, if they were under-55 and in "poor" health, only 20% were employed.

Policy Points

Health makes a BIG difference to employment status. Health status and disability are different matters, but they are related. There are healthy people with disability, but there should be more!

This study shows that medical needs do affect employment. Health insurance and equity in health care for people with vision and/or other disabilities must be a priority policy response.

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