Backlash From Advocates
The U.S. Census Bureau has decided to halt its plans to modify how it gathers information about disabilities after facing significant backlash from advocates for disabled individuals. These changes, proposed for the bureau’s American Community Survey, were criticized for potentially artificially reducing the number of individuals with disabilities by over 40%. Advocates argued that this reduction would limit access to essential resources such as housing, education, and program benefits. They also expressed discontent about not being properly consulted regarding such a major overhaul.
Engaging with the Disability Community
The Census Bureau, acknowledging the concerns raised, plans to engage with advocates in the disability community to determine necessary changes to the questions. The goal is to ensure a comprehensive representation of disabilities while retaining the current disability questions in the 2025 American Community Survey. Census Bureau Director Robert Santos stated that they will work with stakeholders and the public to better understand data needs related to disability and evaluate if any revisions across the federal statistical system are necessary to address those needs.
The Importance of the American Community Survey
The American Community Survey stands as the most comprehensive survey of American life, covering various aspects such as commuting times, internet access, family life, income, education levels, disabilities, and military service. The existing disability questions ask respondents to indicate whether they have difficulty or serious difficulty with tasks such as seeing, hearing, concentrating, remembering, walking, dressing, bathing, or performing everyday tasks due to physical, mental, or emotional conditions. Those who answer “yes” are counted as having a disability.
Proposed Changes and Impact
The proposed changes aimed to align the questions with international standards and introduced four response choices: “no difficulty,” “some difficulty,” “a lot of difficulty,” and “cannot do at all.” A person would be considered disabled if they answered “cannot do at all” or “a lot of difficulty” for any task or function. The changes also included a query about communication difficulties. During a test run, the percentage of respondents defined as having a disability decreased from 13.9% to 8.1% under the proposed changes. When the definition was expanded to include “some difficulty,” the percentage increased to 31.7%.
Public Feedback and Moving Forward
The proposed changes to the disability questions were part of several adjustments to the American Community Survey that the Census Bureau intended to submit for approval this year. The bureau received over 12,000 responses during the solicitation of public feedback, with the majority expressing concerns about the disability question changes. Advocates emphasized their commitment to working with the bureau to develop more equitable and inclusive disability questions that accurately capture the range of disabilities, including mental health problems, developmental disabilities, and chronic health conditions such as those associated with long COVID.
While this decision to halt the changes is seen as a victory by advocates, the focus remains on achieving the long-term goal of creating better disability questions that truly reflect the diversity and experiences of the disability community.
Follow Mike Schneider on X, formerly known as Twitter: @MikeSchneiderAP.