Disability touches many lives—not just the lives of the
individuals with disabilities, but also the lives of their
families, friends, and coworkers. Information on peo-
ple with disabilities is sought by health care providers,
manufacturers of assistive devices, and policy makers,
among others. In 2002, 51.2 million people living in
the United States had some level of disability, and
32.5 million had a severe disability, according to the
Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP).1
See Figure 1.
In 2002, disability came in many forms:
• About 10.7 million people aged 6 and older needed
personal assistance with one or more activities of
daily living (ADLs) or instrumental activities of daily
• Among the population 15 and older, 2.7 million
used a wheelchair and 9.1 million used an ambula-
tory aid such as a cane, crutches, or a walker.
• Approximately 7.9 million people had difficulty see-
ing words and letters in ordinary newsprint, includ-
ing 1.8 million who reported being unable to see.
• Another 7.8 million people had difficulty hearing
ordinary conversation, and 1 million of these people
were unable to hear.
Disability by Age, Sex, and Race and
The disability rate for each age group was successive-
ly higher than for the next younger group. With a dis-
ability rate of 19 percent, people aged 45 to 54 were
more than twice as likely as children under 15 (8 per-
cent) to have a disability and half as likely as people
65 to 69 (38 percent) to have a disability. Among
people aged 80 and older, the disability rate was
72 percent. This relationship between age and disabili-
ty holds for both people with severe disabilities and
those needing personal assistance (see Figure 2).
Overall, the majority of people with disabilities were
female. In 2002, 28 million women and girls were dis-
abled, compared with 23 million men and boys. Even
so, the disability rate for the population younger than
15 was lower for girls (6 percent) than for boys
(11 percent). Additionally, women a