May 13, 2012

User Statistics – People with Disabilities

(a.k.a. “Can you give me some numbers?”)

Originally posted: July 2007

Faux GraphOften, decisions and compromises must be made in projects large and small. Experienced decision makers surround themselves with factual data so that they can weigh the benefits and risks of any crucial decision. When it comes to online accessibility, it is important to remember that is not just about “disabled” users – it’s about all users – “disabled” is a label that many people do not want or feel applies to them.

A study by Microsoft in 2003 showed that among adult computer users in the United States:

  • 1 in 4 has a vision difficulty
  • 1 in 4 has a dexterity difficulty
  • 1 in 5 has a hearing difficulty

The Microsoft Survey also found that 16% of users have a cognitive difficulty or impairment, and few (3%) have a speech difficulty or impairment.

Actual study numbers show:

  • 17% (21.9 million) of computer users have a mild visual difficulty or impairment, and 9% (11.1 million) of computer users have a severe visual difficulty or impairment.
  • 19% (24.4 million) of computer users have a mild dexterity difficulty or impairment, and 5% (6.8 million) of computer users have a severe dexterity difficulty or impairment.
  • 18% (24.0 million) of computer users have a mild hearing difficulty or impairment, and 2% (2.5 million) of computer users have a severe hearing difficulty or impairment.

(Source: Study Commissioned by Microsoft Corporation and Conducted by Forrester Research, Inc. –

Other statistics can also provide a strong argument for ensuring your on-line presence is accessible:

  1. 12.8 percent of adults (21-64) are disabled in some way. Bjelland, M.J., Erickson, W. A., Lee, C. G. (2008, November 8). Disability Statistics from the American Community Survey (ACS). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability Demographics and Statistics (StatsRRTC). Retrieved April 7, 2009 from
  2. 8 to 12% of males of European origin have a color deficiency. Accessibility and the Web
  3. Approximately 17 percent (36 million) of American adults report some degree of hearing loss – NIDCD Health Information
  4. Only 1 out of 5 people who could benefit from a hearing aid actually wears one – NIDCD Health Information
  5. 5% of people have javascript turned off – W3 Schools
  6. Internet Explorer 6 still has a 17% browser share – W3 Schools

Disability Statistics for the U.S. by Sex and Age

U.S. civilian non-institutionalized population 5 years and over – there are about 49.7 million people (about 19 percent) who are considered “disabled”, again numbers that are consistent with the Microsoft survey.

Population Both Sexes Male Female
Population 5 years and over 257,167,527 124,636,825 132,530,702
Population 5 years and over With a Disability 49,746,248 24,439,531 25,306,717
Population 5 years and over Percent with a Disability 19.3% 19.6% 19.1%
Population 5 to 15 years 45,133,667 23,125,324 22,008,343
Population 5 to 15 years With a Disability 2,614,919 1,666,230 948,689
Population 5 to 15 years Percent with a Disability 5.8% 7.2% 4.3%
Population 16 to 64 years 178,687,234 87,570,583 91,116,651
Population 16 to 64 years With a Disability 33,153,211 17,139,019 16,014,192
Population 16 to 64 years Percent with a Disability 18.6% 19.6% 17.6%
Population 65 years and over 33,346,626 13,940,918 19,405,708
Population 65 years and over With a Disability 13,978,118 5,634,282 8,343,836
65 years and over Percent with a Disability 41.9% 40.4% 43.0%

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau. Census 2000 Summary File 3. Retrieved May 20, 2005, from American FactFinder and tabulated by

…and don’t forget…

These numbers rely to a certain extent on identified or self-identified users-with-impairments. Many people will have user requirements that most people often do not think of as impairments or disabilities; however accessible content delivery benefits these people too – be it the ability to enlarge the text on the screen (visual impairment), to having clear, easy and user-friendly site navigation (cognitive impairments).

The anonymity of internet usage makes tracking users and user requirements for your particular web site difficult to impossible. But by looking at general population numbers and statistics it should become very clear that between 20% and 25% of the average web site user-base will benefit from ensuring that accessible design and development techniques are incorporated into your current or next-generation web property.

  1. #1 by jimtobias on May 16, 2012 - 5:42 am

    It’s good to have these high level numbers, but we need more details if we want to guide design and policy correctly. For example, how many screen reader users are there? If we know that only 1 in 5 hard of hearing people use hearing aids, what’s the percentage for blind people and screen readers? And more importantly, why are the numbers so low? Is cost the controlling factor? (Then why are free, built-in accessibility features so underused?) Lots of questions that a little bit of careful research could answer….

    Raising the Floor has a program on disability statistics and market research that John’s readers may find interesting:

    • #2 by John on May 16, 2012 - 2:18 pm

      Hi Jim,

      I couldn’t agree more. There is likely more data out there (remember, I originally wrote this over 5 years ago), but it is hidden and very hard to unearth, which is a real shame. While having firmer numbers would be extremely useful to us as Subject Matter Experts, it also sort of misses the point that there are *lots* of people who benefit from a Universal Design perspective: actual numbers are almost secondary. For example, I would often take the Microsoft survey numbers and abstract them to the point where I could say “This means that nearly 1 in 5 people will benefit if you follow WCAG (2) guidelines” – not instantly solve all problems mind you, but benefit. It was a successful wedge to get my foot in the door and to get developers to consider the larger message. It was also generally enough for higher-level project managers, who needed simple, quick take-aways, and not multi-page data-sets: “…a Microsoft study suggested that nearly 1 in 5 Americans have some form of disability – but it is a matter of severity when it comes to individuals.” That they could take-away quite easily.

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