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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Research Navigator: Home Sweet Home: State and National Household-Level Data for People with Vision Loss

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Published January 30, 2017

This brief Research Navigator provides an overview of our new 2015 Data Workbook, including:

  • tips about the reliability and usefulness of the Workbook's data, and
  • highlights from this initial workbook release, which is focused on households and living situations for people with vision loss.

About This Series

Welcome to the ninth edition of AFB's Research Navigator. This is a quarterly series - accompanying AFB's DirectConnect newsletter - from the AFB Public Policy Center. The purpose of this series is to keep you informed of user-friendly facts and figures and the latest research pertaining to people with vision loss. The series will also include the necessary background information so you may use the information most accurately. Have an idea for a Research Navigator topic? Want to know more about a particular statistic or line of research? Send your thoughts to AFB's Senior Policy Researcher, Rebecca Sheffield. Readers are also encouraged to check out AFB's Statistical Snapshots. This webpage is regularly updated with a wide variety of information and tools that address commonly asked questions about people with vision loss.

A Sweet Treat

Just in time for Valentine's Day, the AFB research team has been working hard on a gift for you! Using the link below, you can download our 2015 Data Workbook, an Excel file full of spreadsheets with national and state level data about vision loss from the American Community Survey (ACS), including 2015 data and five-year data, 2011-2015. The 2011-2015 data files were just released by the Census Bureau, so this is very "fresh" data!

Download the 2015 Data Workbook (version 1) (note: this link is to an Excel spreadsheet saved in DropBox; after following the link, you will have the option to download the file).

How to use the Workbook

Opening the 2015 Data Workbook, you will find a tab explaining the data sources and how to cite the workbook, followed by tabs for every state in the United States, as well as Puerto Rico. The American Community Survey is one of the most comprehensive national surveys, and data can actually be broken down for much smaller geographic levels - such as ZipCodes and Census tracts. However, for small populations (such as people with vision loss), focusing at the state level helps to reduce statistical error (the chance that the people who were surveyed were not representative of the overall population). The more people included in a survey sample, the more accurate the survey will be in estimating characteristics of the total population.

Most of the data in the Workbook is based on a five-year dataset (meaning the estimates are based on data from five consecutive years of the ACS), which helps expand the sample and reduce statistical error. Yet, readers should be a little more cautious about estimates in smaller states, and we can feel a little more confident about estimates in larger states. Similarly, when looking at estimates that break down the small category of people with vision loss into even smaller categories (such as people with vision loss, between the ages of 0 and 2, living in New Hampshire!), then we should be even more concerned about the amount of statistical error in the estimates.

The 2015 Data Workbook currently does not contain confidence intervals (which are mathematically derived to provide information to help judge the usefulness of data; for example "we are 95% confident that the actual value is between X% and Y%"). AFB is working with the Census Bureau and hopes to update the Workbook with this information soon.

States and State-Level Data

On the national ("USA") tab in the Workbook, you will find a single table listing population data for each state. This is the Census Bureau's most current (2015) data. Remaining tabs in the workbook contain a variety of data about people with vision loss in each state (based on the 5-year data files).

When considering the distribution of people with visual impairments among the states of the United States, ranking the total numbers of people with vision loss in each state can be misleading - it is not very helpful to know that California and Texas have the most people with visual impairments (2015 ACS estimates are 800,000 and 701,000, respectively). Of course these states have the largest populations of people with vision loss; they have the largest populations among all the states of the United States, regardless of disability!

Prevalence rates (percentages) are more helpful for demonstrating the variation in vision loss from state to state. Comparing states by the rate of vision loss estimated (for all ages) by the 2015 American Community Survey, the three states with the highest proportions of residents with vision loss are West Virginia (3.9% +/- 0.2%), Nevada (3.8% +/- 0.2%), and Arkansas (3.4% +/- 0.2%), while the three states with the lowest rates are Minnesota (1.5% +/- 0.1%), Hawaii (1.6% +/- 0.2%), and Wisconsin (1.8% +/- 0.1%). Also of note, Puerto Rico's rate of visual impairment is 6.0% +/- 0.2%, higher than any U.S. State. (Confidence intervals from the Census Bureau's American Fact Finder). Geographically speaking, the highest rates of visual impairment tend to be among states in the southern, central regions of the U.S., with lower rates in the Midwest and on the coasts.


We have reported on demographic information in previous editions of the Research Navigator. Now the 2015 Data Workbook gives you easy access to much more state-level data than could be included in the typical Navigator format. The Workbook includes national and state level breakdowns for commonly used age categories and for sex (male/female) for both adults and children. We have also provided tables with classifications for nine race categories used by the Census Bureau.

Where do people with visual impairments live?

Since the focus of this first release of the Data Workbook is on housing (the American Community Survey collects a host of household-level data), we have pulled national and state-level data for a variety of housing-related variables. Most of these variables are based on survey questions that are asked for the entire household (rather than other demographic questions which may be unique to each person in the household). As with most American Community Survey data, we must acknowledge that the findings typically do not include data from people living in group quarters (like dorms or assisted living facilities) and never includes data for people living in "institutional group quarters" (such as prisons, military barracks, and nursing homes).

Multi-generational Households

The Census Bureau asks (in the American Community Survey) whether a household is multigenerational, meaning that there are two or more adult generations living in the same household or that both grandparents and grandchildren live in the same household. In the national data, it is interesting that people with vision loss are slightly more likely to live in multigenerational households. This trend is similar for both adults and children. State-level breakdowns show that differences vary quite a bit from state to state. Read more from VisionAware about grandparenting with vision loss.


Although in the field of blindness and visual impairments, "mobility" usually means the ability to get up and go, to the Census Bureau, "mobility" refers to people who relocate and move from place to place. Looking at the 2015 Data Workbook, we see that the national rates of mobility are fairly similar for people with and without vision difficulty (about 85% of people are "nonmovers," who do not relocate within a given year). Children with vision loss have more than a 2% greater rate of mobility than children without vision loss. The Census Bureau also tracks differences in those relocating from other locations inside the United States/Puerto Rico, versus those relocating from outside the U.S. While there are not strong differences at a national level, you may find useful information at the state level.

Limited English Households

The ACS asks households whether anyone in the household aged 14 or older speaks English only or speaks English "very well." If no one in the household meets that criteria, then the household is considered a "Limited English Household." Nationally, less than 5% of households are Limited English Households. People with vision loss appear more likely to live in Limited English Households. Look at the state-level data to see how this trend varies across the United States. AFB's FamilyConnect provides many of its web resources in both English and Spanish to support the growing proportion of Spanish-speaking families.

Receipt of Food Stamps/SNAP

One way to study the financial situations of people with vision loss is to look at their household's participation in nutrition assistance programs. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federal program whose funding is administered through state agencies under a variety of program names, often referred to as food stamps. The ACS asks households if they have received such benefits at any time in the prior 12 months. People with vision difficulty are much more likely to live in households that receive this type of nutrition assistance (for children, 42% of children with vision loss vs. 26% of children without vision loss; for adults, 26% of adults with vision loss vs. 13% of adults without vision loss). The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service provides information about eligibility criteria for SNAP benefits. In general, net household income must be at or below the federal poverty level in order to qualify for SNAP; however, policies in are in place to reduce income and asset limitations if at least one person in the household is over age 60 or has a disability.

The future of the Data Workbook

Whether you are writing a grant or report or are just looking to better understand the characteristics of people with vision loss in your state, we hope you find this first release of the Data Workbook helpful! The AFB research team plans to continue to update this file, both to keep the data current and to add new types of data. We will be adding data from the National Health Interview Survey (which AFB uses for our national population estimate of people with vision loss), and we will look at other data sources, including data from the Department of Education. What would you be interested in accessing? Let us know! Email Rebecca Sheffield (

Please subscribe to the DirectConnect Newsletter to stay informed about updates to the Data Workbook (as well as to receive the quarterly Navigator and other important updates from the AFB Policy Center). To subscribe, go to and login in (if you have logged in before) or follow the link to "become a member" to create a newsletter account. Once you have an account and are logged in, follow the link to "Newsletters," check the box next to AFB DirectConnect, and click submit!

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