Facts About Blindness

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Statistical Facts about Blindness in the United States

Definitions

There are several ways to define blindness.

  • Many people regard blindness as inability to see at all or, at best, to discern light from darkness.
  • The National Federation of the Blind takes a much broader view. We encourage persons to consider themselves to be blind if their sight is bad enough—even with corrective lenses—that they must use alternative methods to engage in any activity that persons with normal vision would do using their eyes.
  • The United States Bureau of the Census question about significant vision loss encompasses both total or near-total blindness and trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses.
  • The statutory definition of legally blind is that central visual acuity must be 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best possible correction or that the visual field must be 20 degrees or less.
  • There are no generally accepted definitions for visually impaired, low vision, or “vision loss.

Estimates

Almost all statistics on blindness are estimated, which means that the numbers found in a sample are extrapolated to the entire population. United States government agencies—including the Bureau of the Census, the National Center for Health Statistics, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics—use sophisticated statistical techniques that lead to population estimates with great accuracy. Moreover, these techniques also provide the margin of error.

Blindness among children

American Printing House for the Blind, 2014 Annual Report

Each year, the American Printing House for the Blind polls each state for data on the number of legally blind children (through age 21) enrolled in elementary and high school in the US eligible to receive free reading matter in Braille, large print, or audio format. This is used to develop a quota of federal funds to be spent in each state for material in each alternative format. These are probably the only exact numbers regarding blindness in the United States.

  • Total number of students: 60,393
    • By reporting agency
      • Reported by state departments of education: 50,205 (83.1%)
      • Reported by residential schools for the blind: 5,133 (8.5%)
      • Reported by rehabilitation programs: 3,661 (6.1%)
      • Reported by multiple disability programs: 1,394 (2.3%)
    • By primary reading medium
      • Braille readers: 5,147 (8.5%)
      • Print readers: 17,647 (29.2%)
      • Auditory readers: 5,529 (9.2%)
      • Non-readers: 21,042 (34.8%)
      • Pre-readers: 11,028 (18.3%)

American Printing House for the Blind, Annual Report 2014: Distribution of Eligible Students Based on the Federal Quota Census of January 7, 2013 (Fiscal Year 2014).
Accessed February 17, 2016, from http://www.aph.org/federal-quota/distribution-2014/.

Disability Statistics, American Community Survey (2013)

The number of non-institutionalized males or females, ages 4 and under through 20, all races, regardless of ethnicity, with all education levels in the United States who reported a visual disability in 2013.

Prevalence:

  • Total: 694,300 (2.4%)
    • Girls: 333,500 (2.3%)
    • Boys: 360,700 (2.3%)

Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. (2015). Disability Statistics from the 2013 American Community Survey (ACS). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute (EDI).
Retrieved September 9, 2015, from www.disabilitystatistics.org.

Blindness among adults (2013)

These estimates (for adults age 16 and older reporting significant vision loss, who were in the non-institutionalized, civilian population) are all derived from the American Community Survey results for 2013, as interpreted by Cornell University’s Employment and Disability Institute (EDI), unless otherwise credited.

Prevalence of Visual Disability

The number of non-institutionalized, male or female, ages 16 through 75+, all races, regardless of ethnicity, with all education levels in the United States reported to have a visual disability in 2013.

  • Total (all ages): 7,327,800 (2.3%)
    • Total (16 to 75+): 6,846,000 (8.7%)
      • Women: 3,793,300 (9.3%)
      • Men: 3,052,700 (8.1%)
  • Age 18 to 64: 3,805,600 (1.9%)
  • Age 65 and older: 2,966,300 (6.8%)

Race or Ethnicity

The number of non-institutionalized, male or female, all ages, with all education levels in the United States reported to have a visual disability in 2013.

  • White: 5,328,700 (2.3%)
  • Black/African American: 1,144,900 (2.9%)
  • Hispanic: 1,146,100 (2.1%)
  • Asian: 221,800 (1.4%)
  • American Indian or Alaska Native: 98,700 (4.0%)
  • Some other race(s): 533,700 (2.2%)

State Distribution

The number of non-institutionalized, male or female, all ages, all races, regardless of ethnicity, with all education levels in the United States reported to have a visual disability in 2013.

Alabama: 143,900 Alaska: 13,600 Arizona: 157,100 Arkansas: 98,100 California: 790,700 Colorado: 106,600 Connecticut: 65,300 Delaware: 20,800 District of Columbia: 12,600 Florida: 494,900 Georgia: 262,400 Hawaii: 25,600 Idaho: 42,700
Illinois: 266,500 Indiana: 165,400 Iowa: 53,100 Kansas: 54,200 Kentucky: 138,700 Louisiana: 147,800 Maine: 27,200 Maryland: 111,900 Massachusetts: 136,500 Michigan: 229,400 Minnesota: 83,500 Mississippi: 107,700 Missouri: 143,900
Montana: 23,800 Nebraska: 33,600 Nevada: 81,100 New Hampshire: 22,000 New Jersey: 179,100 New Mexico: 71,300 New York: 402,800 North Carolina: 252,800 North Dakota: 11,500 Ohio: 270,900 Oklahoma: 124,400 Oregon: 107,300 Pennsylvania: 285,300
Rhode Island: 23,700 South Carolina: 127,600 South Dakota: 18,700 Tennessee: 203,900 Texas: 634,600 Utah: 45,600 Vermont: 13,800 Virginia: 155,100 Washington: 147,500 West Virginia: 72,200 Wisconsin: 106,600 Wyoming: 12,600 Puerto Rico: 206,400

Educational Attainment (US)

The number of non-institutionalized, male or female, ages 21-64, all races, regardless of ethnicity, in the United States reported to have a visual disability in 2013. These numbers refer to the highest level of education attained by a given individual.

  • Less than high school graduation: 878,600 (24.0%)
  • High school diploma or a GED: 1,171,600 (31.9%)
  • Some college education/associates degree: 1,113,800 (30.4%)
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher: 503,300 (13.7%)

Income and Poverty Status

The annual earnings and poverty status of non-institutionalized persons aged 21-64 years with a visual disability in the United States in 2013.

  • Median Annual Earnings: $35,300
  • Median Annual Household Income: $36,500
  • Number living below the poverty line: 1,098,100 (30.0%).

Supplemental Security Income

The number of non-institutionalized persons aged 21 to 64 years with a visual disability, in the United States who received SSI benefits in 2013 was 631,100 (17.2%).

Health Insurance Status

The number of non-institutionalized persons aged 21 to 64 years with a visual disability in the United States in 2013.

  • Uninsured: 775,900 (21.2%)
  • Insured: 2,891,300 (78.8%)
    • Employer/Union: 1,230,300 (33.5%)
    • Purchased: 319,400 (8.7%)
    • Medicare: 788,900 (21.5%)
    • Medicaid: 1,252,800 (34.2%)
    • Military/VA: 221,000 (6.0%)
    • Indian Health Service: 29,500 (0.8%)

Employment (US)

The number of non-institutionalized, male or female with a visual disability, ages 21-64, all races, regardless of ethnicity, with all education levels in the United States in 2013.

  • Employed: 1,474,700
    • Full-time/Full-year Employment: 968,600
  • Unemployment (in the labor force, i.e., actively looking): 263,800.

Therefore, for working age adults reporting significant vision loss, only 40.2% were employed in 2013.

Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. (2015). Disability Statistics from the 2013 American Community Survey (ACS). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute (EDI). Retrieved September 10, 2015, from www.disabilitystatistics.org.

Mobility

There are no reliable current statistics on the use of canes or dog guides in the United States. However, Guiding Eyes for the Blind estimates that there are approximately 10,000 guide dog teams currently working in the United States. Another frequently cited statistic is that only about 2 percent of all people who are blind and visually impaired work with guide dogs.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind. (2015). General Information. Accessed September 10, 2015, from www.guidingeyes.org/about-us/general-information/.

Computer Use

There are few reliable current statistics on the use of computers and the Internet by blind people in the United States. For data on the preferences of screen reader software users, please see the report on the results of the July 2015 survey from WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind), Screen Reader User Survey #6 Results. WebAIM is a non-profit organization based at the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University.

Further Resources

•American Foundation for the Blind, Statistical Snapshots from the American Foundation for the Blind. http://www.afb.org/section.aspx?SectionID=15.
•Bell, E. C., & Mino, N. M. (2015). Employment Outcomes for Blind and Visually Impaired Adults. Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research, 5(2). Retrieved from https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/jbir/jbir15/jbir050202.html. doi: http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/p70-131.pdf
•National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/
•National Center for Special Education Research, Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education. http://ies.ed.gov/ncser/
•National Eye Institute, Blindness, Statistics and Data [NEI]. http://www.nei.nih.gov/eyedata/blind.asp.

•Prevent Blindness America, Vision Problems in the US: Prevalence of Adult Vision Impairment and Age-Related Eye Disease in America. Last modified 2012. http://www.visionproblemsus.org/index.html.
•United States Bureau of the Census, American FactFinder http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml.

Page Updated: March 2016

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