National Council on Disability Feature: Disability Statistics Need Comprehensive Reassessment Now

WASHINGTON, Aug. 8 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The National Council on Disability (NCD) released its 2001 annual National Disability Policy: A Progress Report, on July 26, 2002. The report addresses several important issues related to people with disabilities. This feature highlights issues related to disability statistics and research, including serious concerns over the accuracy of widely disseminated information about employment rates among people with disabilities. These concerns were initially reported in the NCD Annual Progress Report for 2000, and progress is being made toward solutions.


In response to the concerns expressed and documented by NCD last year over the accuracy and reliability of widely disseminated information about employment rates among people with disabilities, the Presidential Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities was tasked with developing a better method for determining the employment status of people with disabilities. The major problem is with data developed from the latest Current Populations Survey (CPS) questionnaire that was inadequately designed and failed to include items that could elicit accurate and reliable information. There were serious concerns that this could lead to ineffective, even dangerous, public policy decisions. The Task Force report, conducted through the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is to address these concerns. The report is expected to be completed this summer.

Meanwhile, repetition and dissemination of the inaccurate CPS data continues, much with federal support. As Congress and the courts make decisions on key employment policy and civil rights issues, these deliberations must be guided by accurate and timely information. NCD recommends that the Federal Government discourage and end support for the dissemination of this employment data until an acceptable methodology for accessing employment rates among people with disabilities can be developed. Furthermore, when BLS offers a new methodology for the collection of employment data, NCD recommends that the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) convene a panel of demographers, labor economists, other appropriate researchers and policymakers, along with people with disabilities, to review the proposed methodology for accuracy and reliability. NIDRR should also work closely with the Census Bureau, Office of Disability Employment Policy, and such other appropriate agencies to carry out the field-testing of all instruments.


With evidence-based policymaking becoming more central to government decision-making, reliable and accurate statistical information and research data are more important than ever. While possible solutions to the dilemma of the accuracy and reliability of data are promised from the BLS, new complexities in information collection are mounting. For example, the question of how many people with disabilities there are in America begs a definition of disability, and various statutes define disability differently. The size and the needs of the disability population will be greatly influenced by which definition and which functional measure is used. Compounding the problem is the fact that different agencies collect data in very different ways. With the increasing role of assistive technology in the lives of Americans with disabilities, traditional definitions of when and whether a major life activity is substantially limited have become far more difficult to determine. And, finally, the Supreme Court has weighed in on the definition issues with decisions stating that mitigating measures, such as medications and eyeglasses, must be taken into account in determining whether an individual can be counted as having a disability.

To address these very important and complex issues, NCD urgently recommends that Congress authorize the Interagency Committee on Statistical Policy, NIDRR and NCD to undertake a comprehensive, high-level reassessment of all disability statistics and all data-gathering techniques.

It is reported that the General Accounting Office (GAO) will publish a report in August regarding the federal definition of "disability." This anticipated report apparently is one self-initiated by GAO, rather than one undertaken by Congressional request. Given the range of different disability definitions (e.g., Social Security Administration and work disability, Supreme Court and the ADA definition), such an effort by GAO may be well justified.

For more information, contact Mark Quigley at 202-272-2004 or Celane McWhorter at 703-683-1166.


Source: National Disability Policy: A Progress Report, December 2000-December 2001 (underscore)07-26-02.html

Contact: Mark S. Quigley of the National Council on Disability (NCD), 202-272-2004 or 202-272-2074 (TTY)

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