More MS news articles for July 2000

Harris Poll: People with Disabilities Faring Worse in Key Areas

By Janine Bertram Kemp

75 percent say there has been no improvement in quality of life since the ADA took effect.

Ten years after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a recent poll shows that Americans with disabilities still trail their nondisabled counterparts socially, economically, educationally, politically and in other key areas.

The National Organization on Disability (NOD) released the results of the 2000 NOD/Harris Survey of Americans with Disabilities on July 19. Louis Harris and Associates conducted the surveyed 997 adults with disabilities and 953 nondisabled adults by telephone.

Harris and N.O.D. selected 10 key areas -- used for past surveys -- for measuring the integration of people with disabilities into society:

The survey found that although the last decade has seen progress in narrowing gaps for individuals with slight or moderate disabilities, those with somewhat severe or very severe disabilities still face striking gaps when compared with their nondisabled counterparts.

Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia hosted a press conference in Washington, D.C., where the results were announced. Humphrey Taylor, chairman of Louis Harris and Associates, presented the results. Alan Reich, president of NOD, discussed the poll and answered questions.

Good and Bad News

Taylor noted that the survey painted "a slightly complex picture with both good and bad news."

Harris has been surveying people with disabilities over a 14-year period, and in this survey it wanted to "provide a benchmark in the new century."

Taylor said Harris and Associates "re-examined the 10 indicators of quality of life to measure the gaps between people with and people without disabilities."

The findings show that people with disabilities lag on all key measures.

Some of the survey findings:

Three out of 10 people with disabilities are employed, compared to eight out of 10 in the general population.

Since 1986, the employment rate has remained stable for people with disabilities, despite a burgeoning economy. However, the number of people who say they are unable to work due to their disability has risen from 29 percent to 43 percent.

Two out of 10 people with disabilities fail to complete high school, compared to one out of 10 people without disabilities. People with severe disabilities are far less likely to complete high school.

Only 12 percent of people with disabilities have graduated from college, compared to 23 percent of their nondisabled counterparts. However, the researchers did find that there has been marked progress in the area of education. While only 61 percent of people with disabilities had graduated from high school in 1986, today 77 percent have earned diplomas.

People with disabilities are three times more likely to live in poverty as those without disabilities. Poverty is defined as an annual household income of $15,000 or less. People with severe disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty as those with slight disabilities.

Americans with disabilities are three times more likely to fail to get needed health care and more than twice as likely to put off needed health care because they cannot afford it (28 percent versus 12 percent).

People with disabilities are three times more likely to face problems in securing transportation.

People with disabilities are less likely to be registered to vote and less likely to vote, according to data from the 1996 presidential election. In that year, 62 percent of people with disabilities were registered to vote, compared to 78 percent of people without disabilities -- a gap of 16 percent.

Individuals with disabilities socialize and go out to restaurants, movies and sporting events far less often than their nondisabled counterparts.

People with disabilities do not attend religious services as often, although eight out of 10 say religious faith is important.

Cleland, who defines himself as a "triple amputee," stated he "became a militant for the cause of disability rights because my own skin was in the game. Prior to the ADA, people with disabilities were under the radar screen for many years. Society didn't know and didn't care."

Reich noted the importance of disability policy for the broader public. "We all, in a sense, live in the antechamber of disability. A disability can happen in no time flat. These survey results are important as a measure of where disabled people stand at the beginning of a new millennium."

Taylor explained the methodology and presented a summary of the survey. Participants were interviewed by telephone between May 25 and June 11. Interviews were conducted with the person identified as having a disability or a proxy. In 13 percent of the sample of people with severe disabilities, the disability was defined as one that precluded a direct interview, and a proxy was used. Proxies were used for survey subjects who were deaf.

Suggestions for Future Surveys

Taylor, who noted that 43 percent of those with disabilities said their disability prevented them from working, was asked whether pollsters correlated recipients of federal benefits with those who responded that they were unable to work because of their disability. Currently a person with a disability must show that his disability permanently prevents him from working in order to receive most federal cash and medical benefits. Taylor replied that surveyors did not ask whether participants received federal benefits and agreed that this question should be included in future surveys.

There were several questions from the audience concerning community-based services and supports, an issue not included in Harris Poll queries.

Audience members suggested that lack of personal care assistance and other support services might correlate with the gaps, especially where persons with severe disabilities were concerned. Reich said he would like to include questions regarding personal care assistance in future surveys.

One reporter asked whether new legislation was needed. "The ADA is not being enforced," Reich answered. "The nation needs to implement ADA and IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) before we look at new legislation."

Seventy-five percent of those with disabilities surveyed say there has been no improvement in quality of life since the ADA took effect. The more severe the disability, the more likely the person was to respond that the ADA has improved quality of life.

The presenters stressed that the Harris Poll outlines some serious problems in access to society for people with disabilities, indicating a need for policy changes and better enforcement of civil rights laws. However, they also noted that despite the gaps in access to key life activities, many people with disabilities remain optimistic.

Some examples:

More than six out of 10 people with disabilities believe life has improved in the last 10 years.

Media portrayal of disability has improved, according to 61 percent of participants.

Attitudes about disabilities have improved, 59 percent of respondents say.

Find the complete survey at the NOD Web site.

(This story was posted on 21 Jul 2000)