2021 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium


Overview. Statistics are a powerful tool - in research, policymaking, program evaluation, and advocacy. They are used to frame issues, monitor current circumstances and progress, judge the effectiveness of policies and programs, make projections about the future, and predict the costs of potential policy changes.

In the United States, disability statistics – information about the population with disabilities and about the government programs that serve people with disabilities - are often difficult to find. Numerous government agencies generate and publish disability statistics, and as a result, the data are scattered across various federal government documents and websites.

The Annual Disability Statistics Compendium and its complement, the Annual Disability Statistics Supplement, are summaries of statistics about people with disabilities and about the government programs which serve them. The Compendium, available both in hard copy and online (at www.disabilitycompendium.org) presents key overall statistics on topics including the prevalence of disability, employment among persons with disabilities, rates of participation in disability income and social insurance programs, and other statistics. The Annual Disability Statistics Supplement, only available online (also at www.disabilitycompendium.org), presents tables with over 150 additional categorizations of data for each section highlighted in the Compendium.

Notes on the data. The Compendium is a compilation of data from multiple sources, such as the Social Security Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration, and frequently, the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, among others. Many of these get updated annually, however some of them have not received an update in recent years. These include selected data from the Social Security Administration (SSA) on the State Assistance Programs for SSI Recipients (last updated in 2011) and the data from the U.S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration (last updated in 2016). We used the most recent data wherever available.

It is also of note that in many cases disability data is broken out into 6 main types (cognitive, ambulatory, hearing, vision, self-care, and independent living), and does not necessarily allow for more fine-grained analysis. For instance, cognitive disability is a category, but this does not tell one the specific type of cognitive disability, such as whether it is related to a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or an Intellectual/Developmental Disorder (IDD).

Exploring other topics. The UNH Institute on Disability is dedicated to thorough research and has explored topics such as understanding the factors associated with the health disparities experienced by people with intellectual disabilities through the Health Disparities Project (https://www.iod.unh.edu/projects/health-disparities-project) and career self-management through job crafting for people with physical and mild cognitive disabilities (https://www.iod.unh.edu/projects/career-self-management-through-job-crafting-people-physical-and-mild-cognitive-disabilities). 

New this year. The 2021 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium includes a new section on Voting and Registration, which presents summarized statistics on voting and registration of people with and without disabilities in the 2020 presidential elections. This section is co-sponsored by the Rutgers University, Program on Disability Research. These statistics are adapted from the “Fact Sheet: Disability and Voter Turnout in the 2020 Elections,” by Lisa Schur and Douglas Kruse.  Go to https://smlr.rutgers.edu/faculty-research-engagement/program-disability-research for more detailed statistics. Additionally,

  • The tables presenting change in employment and poverty gaps between people with disability and no disability have been removed this year. These tables are table 3.10 and table 6.4.  
  • The source of all statistics previously reported from the American Community Survey 1-year estimates has changed to the American Community Survey public use microdata sample.
  • Most statistics based on the American Community Survey public use microdata sample are reported for the age group 18-64 years. 

The above-mentioned changes have made the Annual Disability Statistics Compendium more consistent across all tables, however, there may be minor differences between the estimates reported in the past years and the estimates reported this year.

A note about 2020 American Community Survey data

Since 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau has collected basic household and individual characteristics of the U.S. population via the American Community Survey (ACS), providing researchers and policy makers with statistically reliable national, state, county, and metropolitan-level demographic estimates. Data collection for the ACS includes a mix of internet, mail, telephone, and in-person interviews. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, data collection activities were interrupted.

Specific differences from prior years’ efforts include variation in data collection modes and schedules, and adjustments to weights to compensate for these challenges. In addition, specific populations were disproportionately impacted by these adjustments. For example, access to group quarters became severely restricted. Historically, the numbers presented in the Compendium and Supplement analyze only the civilian non-institutionalized population. As such, this particular data collection challenge did not impact our estimates. However, other issues are relevant.

In-person interviewing ceased on March 20, 2020, and only internet and telephone interviewing continued through the end of June 2020. In July and August 2020, limited in-person interviewing resumed in certain geographic areas, expanding throughout the year. However, the ACS resumed pre-COVID-19 in-person interviewing coverage in February 2021.

Mailings were also limited due to a decrease of federal staff and resources during this same time period. This impacted not only mail data collection but also telephone response rates due to the lack of pre-notice mailings typically sent in advance of first contact.

The COVID-19 Pandemic influences the 2020 ACS response rate and composition of ACS respondents.  For example, on average, respondents had higher levels of education and higher household incomes, when compared to previous years.  Just like every year, the Census Bureau provides weights that allow analysts to adjust estimates to account for the differences between the composition of ACS respondents and the composition of the US population.  However, there may be unobservable Pandemic-related differences for which it is difficult to account.  For this reason, 2020 ACS estimates should be interpreted with caution and not be compared to 2019 ACS estimates.

Due to these data collection challenges, the U.S. Census Bureau assessed the 2020 ACS for new biases due to nonresponse and coverage and examined data quality issues associated with corresponding lower sample sizes and item allocation rates. Overall, 31.6% fewer interviews were collected than planned. Due to the corresponding bias in some point estimates, combined with the lower reliability of estimates, the standard 1-year ACS estimates were not released. Instead, U.S. Census Bureau-issued experimental weights which have been applied to provide the best estimates for 2020 at the national and state level. Data users should not interpret substantial changes from 2019 as evidence of a trend or statistically significant difference. These estimates are generally considered the best estimates of the population with and without disabilities in 2020, but comparisons should not be made to prior years. We will revisit this issue with the release of 2021 data in the next Compendium.

Source: Daily, Donna, Cantwell, Patrick J., Battle, Karen, Waddington, David G., Shin, Hyon B. 2021 (October 27). An Assessment of the COVID-19 Pandemic’s Impact on the 2020 ACS 1-Year Data. ACS Research and Evaluation Report Memorandum Series (#ACS21-RER-04). U.S. Census Bureau: Washington, DC.


Additional Resources. A companion Annual Report is available, providing graphical representations of key findings. The Annual Report highlights trend data related to specific tables in the Compendium and Supplement. The statistics presented here, as well as those in the Supplement and Annual Report, can be viewed and downloaded at https://www.disabilitycompendium.org.

Help navigating any of the resources described here can be found in the Frequently Asked Questions section at https://www.DisabilityCompendium.org/faq. Assistance interpreting and locating additional statistics is available via our toll-free number, 866-538-9521, or by email at disability.statistics@unh.edu. For more information about our research projects, please visit https://www.researchondisability.org

Suggested Citation. Paul, S., Rafal, M.C., & Houtenville, A.J. (2021). Annual Disability Statistics Compendium: 2021. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire, Institute on Disability.