November 14, 2007

Prof Presents Disability Report in Washington

Print More

Despite accounting for many ethnic, age, and gender groups, the U.S. Census Bureau’s data on the current population fails to include statistics regarding the disabled population. Prof. Andrew Houtenville and fellow researchers at Cornell are seeking to alleviate this absence with the second annual Disability Status Report for 2006, presented last Wednesday in Washington D.C. to a diverse audience of about 50 Capitol Hill staffers, disability-related agencies, the media and advocacy groups. Houtenville is the director of Cornell’s Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability
Demo-graphics and Statistics. Houtenville, who is a professor of industrial and labor relations, and three others were co-principal investigators on the report, funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. The report provides an overview of the key demographic and economic statistics of the disabled population from 2006. The investigators generated these statistics using data from the American Community Survey, “a U.S. Census Bureau survey designed to replace the decennial census long form,” according to the status report, thus highlighting their main concern: many federal surveys do not address the disabled population.
“The federal government has a set of about 20 large surveys by which it generates statistics. Many of those surveys didn’t have a disability question or a set of them,” Houtenville said.
This absence prompted Cornell’s initiative for this report.
“It provides comprehensive statistics for a population, but probably more importantly, it is getting the major agencies that generate statistics on poverty and unemployment to include the population with disabilities as a subpopulation, a demographic characteristic to look at. Like for employment, the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides thousands of different breakdowns by different subgroups but they don’t provide anything for people with disabilities,” he said.
However, possibly as a result of attention to reports like this one, there has been some progress in certain surveys. According to Houtenville, the BLS may begin to include disability measures as early as the fall of 2008, though they haven’t completely committed to it. A change by the BLS would be critical to both the public and the report’s improvement as it releases vital monthly unemployment rate numbers.
One of the most salient features this report produced was the employment gap between people with and without disabilities.
“The employment rate of people without disabilities is about 80 percent, and for people with disabilities it’s around 40 percent. It’s really consistent with most of the major federal policies that are aimed at the employment of people with disabilities,” he said.
Similarly, in 2006, the median household income of working-age people without disabilities in the U.S. was $65,400, while that of those with disabilities was $36,300. Unfortunately, there was basically no change in the employment rate reported in 2005.
As for any disability policy change that could result from the report, Houtenville did not expect any immediate changes, since policy is notoriously slow to change. Rather, the report is meant to provide those initiating the change with a valuable resource.
“What we’re hoping is that when people go and advocate for policy change that our statistics are available to them,” he said.
The idea for the report originated when Prof. Richard Burkhauser, policy analysis and management, a co-principal investigator on the report, realized the need for data from the Census Bureau to fill the empty disability niche.
“Every year the Census Bureau puts out a report based on data from the CPS current population survey, that looks at the economic well-being, income, and poverty rates of the United States as a whole and global populations by race, ethnicity, age, gender,” he said. “We felt that it was important to do a similar sort of report for people with disabilities. I thought that it’d be important for us to do this report card for people with disabilities because it wasn’t being done by the government.”
This initiative by Cornell also demonstrates its community outreach commitments.
“It’s actually very consistent with Cornell and its land grant mission where we do research, but we also do outreach. We did a lot of policy-related research with the major federal surveys. As an outreach element, just generating the very basic descriptive statistics is something that we can also do with the data. This report represents a major component of our outreach efforts,” Houtenville said.
On the Cornell campus itself, Burkhauser has found Student Disability Services very accommodating for students with disabilities.
“I think that Cornell has a first-rate accommodation center for its students. As someone who teaches ECON101, because I have 430 students a year, about 5 to 10 percent of those students have disabilities and I’ve had very good relationships with the accommodation center. I’ve felt that the backup that the Cornell Center provides for the students gives them equal access to an education at Cornell,” he said.
In addition, certain students are also focusing on the issues brought up in reports like this one.
“We are aware of the social and economic concerns that face the persons with disabilities in the United States, and we believe that doing our part of increasing awareness at Cornell through various projects and programs will contribute to the betterment of our society,” Elyse Lee ’08, co-president of the Cornell Union for Disabilities Awareness, stated in an e-mail. “Cornell, as a leading university, must play its part in changing society to be more inclusive and accessible.”
One improvement CUDA has been advocating and is currently creating is a class focusing on disability, which will be available beginning fall 2008, and may potentially expand into a Disabilities Studies Program.
Lee added that the program “will be used to advance the awareness of disabilities issues in the U.S. and around the world.”