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New Landmark Harris Survey Shows Little Improvement (Press Release)

Editor's Note: A recent Louis Harris poll of people with disabilities of all kinds found they continue to lag in employment, educational levels, and indicators of quality of life. Working age adults with disabilities are no more likely to be employed now than 10 years ago. Nationally, blind consumers are even less likely to be employed. In Texas, however, statistics from Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) indicate that legally blind working age adults have a far higher rate of employment than the national average.

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 23, 1998 - Americans with disabilities still face gaps in securing jobs, education, accessible public transportation and in many areas of daily life including recreation and worship. Those findings were presented in a new U.S. survey of 1,000 adults with disabilities announced today at a Washington, D.C. news conference by the National Organization on Disability (N.O.D.).

For disability advocates, these findings are disturbing yet motivating for public and private decision-makers. The findings, commissioned by N.O.D in cooperation with Louis Harris & Associates, define the current status of persons with disabilities in American life.

The highlights of the 1998 N.O.D./Harris Survey of Americans with Disabilities released today queried adults with disabilities, early this year (with a sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points). This survey is the first such national poll taken by Harris in cooperation with N.O.D. since 1994, and the third conducted by Harris since 1986.

Among the most startling findings about the workforce, the research exposed significant gaps between the employment rates of the working disabled versus the working non-disabled. Only 29% of disabled persons of working age (18-64) work full or part-time, compared to 79% of the non-disabled population, a gap of 50 percentage points. Of those with disabilities of working age who are not working, 72% say that they would prefer to work.

Fully a third (34%) of adults with disabilities live in households with total income of $15,000 or less, compared to only 12% of those without disabilities.

Approximately one in five (20%) of adults with disabilities have not completed high school compared to 9% of adults with no disabilities.

Alan A. Reich, President of N.O.D. stated, "These gaps are unconscionable. America must do better!" He added, "At a time when the U.S. unemployment rate is at an historic low and there is a crying need for workers, it is astounding to learn that the employment gap remains so wide. As the survey shows, over 72% of people with disabilities out of the workforce want to work and contribute to the economy. America must remove attitudinal and physical barriers in the workplace and in all other areas of life."

Humphrey Taylor, Chairman of Louis Harris & Associates, commented, "The purpose of this research is not just to measure the gaps in key life areas between people with and without disabilities, but to provide information to help close them. I anticipate that the results will be used by people both inside and outside the disability community, with the media, with corporate America, legislators and state and federal administrators."

This survey is rich with information stemming from the answers to 145 questions on life activities considered most important to people with disabilities. Other findings include:

  • " Only one-third (33%) of adults with disabilities are very satisfied with life in general, compared to 61% of the non-disabled population.
  • " Only seven out of ten (69%) adults with disabilities socialize with close friends, relatives or neighbors at least once a week, compared to more than eight out of ten (84%) among the non-disabled, a gap of 15 percentage points.
  • " About a third (33%) of adults with disabilities go to a restaurant at least once a week, compared to six out of ten (60%) of those without disabilities, a gap of 27 percentage points.
  • " Inadequate transportation is identified as a problem by 30% of adults with disabilities. However, only 17% of non-disabled adults consider daily transportation a problem in any way, representing a gap of 13 percentage points.

What can Americans do to close these participation gaps? According to Reich, "A lot. Each of us can help eliminate the gaps in participation by finally focusing on the abilities not disabilities of every American."


Employers - in business, government, public agencies, community institutions and groups - all can examine their practices and develop strategies for seeking out and hiring people with disabilities. Businesses must and can implement Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for accommodations in the workplace for people with disabilities, and at reasonable cost. Recent business studies show, it requires on average less than $300 to accommodate a worker with a disability. Home based employment and other forms of workplace flexibility are beneficial to many workers, including the disabled. From working parents to people with disabilities, many people are taking advantage of technology advances that allow them to telecommute and still play an active role in filling the nation's growing job vacancies. Disability awareness and accessibility is good business. Consumers prefer to deal with businesses that address their needs. The 54 million Americans with disabilities are a prime consumer market actively courted by companies who can meet their needs. Use an untapped pool of talent. People with disabilities can contribute innovative and resourceful thinking to the collective knowledge of their workplaces and communities, because they face unique external challenges as they negotiate the physical world around them, as well an internal challenges to their identity as individuals and as members of society.


Community groups, religious organizations, professional and trade organizations, labor unions and service organizations can examine their practices and adopt plans for including disabled persons. Elected local leaders and officials can ensure that their communities are in full compliance with the law - the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Motor Voter Law, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Recreational, cultural and sports groups and institutions should ensure full accessibility and encourage participation of disabled persons. The recent debate about Casey Martin's participation in the PGA tours highlights the bias people with disabilities face in America today. Recognize people with disabilities as positive contributors to community diversity. People with disabilities, the nation's largest minority, often are not included as a group in corporate and community planning, although they impact diversity at least as much as other minority groups. Moreover the disability population is highly diverse within itself, and, unlike other minority groups anyone can join in an instant.


Those of us with disabilities, family members and friends can take the lead by providing guidance to others in encouraging full participation of people with disabilities in community life. Active involvement by people with disabilities in educational and civic life on all levels expands our awareness of how those outside the mainstream live; this allows our communities to be more thoughtfully inclusive of all differences. Americans must extend themselves to their fellow citizens with disabilities, and overcome their fears of the unknown. We need to become more aware of what people with disabilities can contribute; we need to respect their abilities.

Across the Nation

The media can ensure that people with disabilities are portrayed fairly as individuals engaging in public and private life. Negative portrayals of people with disabilities in movies, such as the recent "There's Something About Mary", TV shows and so on, are inaccurate and should not be permitted.

As more people with disabilities participate in the various aspects of American life, the general population will become more informed, and they will abandon their stereotypes based on misconceptions. Attitudes will improve. The full participation of people with disabilities in an increasingly diverse American population overall will result. Just because we have enacted the ADA does not mean that we can rely on it to change attitudes and perceptions about America's disabled. By valuing each individual for his or her abilities allows our nation to benefit globally by demonstrating democracy at its best.

The National Organization on Disability promotes the full and equal participation of America's 54 million men, women and children with disabilities in all aspects of life. Founded in 1982, N.O.D. is the only national network organization concerned with all disabilities, all age groups and all disability issues. N.O.D. receives no government funds and is supported entirely by private donations from individuals, corporations and foundations. For more information, contact N.O.D. at (202) 293-5960, TDD (202) 293-5968.

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