Chapter 3: Data on Persons with Disabilities

3.1 Target Population

The section 508 standards will improve accessibility to electronic and information technology for persons with disabilities who are currently employed by the Federal government. These standards will also improve accessibility to Federal electronic and information technology for members of the public with disabilities. Based on Bureau of Census statistics from 1994 (4), 20.6 percent or 54 million persons in the United States have some level of disability. By increasing the accessibility of electronic and information technology used by the Federal government, the standards may also improve future employment opportunities in the Federal government for persons with disabilities currently employed by the Federal government, and for persons with disabilities who are working in the private sector or are classified as not being active in the labor force. Increasing the accessibility of electronic and information technology increases the productivity and mobility of persons with disabilities who, under existing conditions, may face barriers to their employment and advancement within the Federal workforce.

3.2 Federal Workers with Disabilities

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) tracks the number of Federal workers with disabilities. In fiscal year 1997, the Federal government employed 167,902 persons with reportable disabilities, of which 28,672 persons had targeted disabilities. The EEOC defines persons with "targeted" disabilities based on the applicable codes on Standard Form 256. Form 256 is a voluntary self-identification system developed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to track the number of persons with disabilities and the types of disabilities represented in the Federal workforce. Nine categories of severe disabilities are classified as targeted disabilities by the EEOC: deafness, blindness, missing extremities, partial paralysis, complete paralysis, convulsive disorders, mental retardation, mental illness, and distortion of limbs and/or spine. Other categories of disabilities may benefit from the section 508 standards such as unable to hear normal conversation or have speech understood. In fact, many of the provisions in the standards are designed to assist persons whose disabilities do not cause them to be classified as having a targeted disability. For example, the standards include provisions to assist persons with limited hearing who are not deaf.

Relying on self-reported data may create a downward bias in the number of Federal workers who are likely to benefit from the standards. This downward bias has two potential sources:

  • Some workers may perceive some sort of stigma or career limiting consequence from reporting a disability; and,
  • Some workers will experience reduction in vision, hearing, or other function as a natural consequence of aging or as a temporary condition from an illness or accident. These workers are unlikely to report themselves as having a disability.

These sources of reporting bias are less likely to affect the number of targeted disabilities reported than the reporting of less severe disabilities.

The Survey of Income and Participation (SIPP)(5) conducted by the Bureau of Census provides periodic data on the number and characteristics of persons with disabilities who are active in the workforce. The SIPP data used in this assessment is for the period from September 1994 to December 1994. Table 3-1 compares the distribution of persons with disabilities in the national labor pool and the Federal workforce. This data does not differentiate between persons working for the private sector and the Federal government. No attempt was made to disaggregate the SIPP to provide such information. In addition, the SIPP data only covers persons between the ages of 20 and 64, the age group most representative of the employed population, including the Federal workforce. Workers with targeted disabilities represent 1.2 percent of the total Federal workforce. An additional 5.6 percent of the Federal workforce reports other non-targeted disabilities.


Table 3-1 Workforce Distribution of Persons with Disabilities
Characteristic 1994 SIPP Age 20-64 Numbers (%) FY 1997 Federal Workforce Numbers (%)
All Persons 123,042,000 (100.00) 2,478,700 (100.00)
Any Disability (incl. severe) 29,919,000 (24.3) 167,902 (6.8)
Severe or Targeted Disability 14,350,000 (11.7) 28,672 (1.2)
Source:Monthly Labor Review, September 1998; and OPM for Federal workforce data.

Federal agencies have the responsibility under sections 501 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to provide reasonable accommodations for Federal workers with disabilities. These accommodations may address accessibility only at the individual's work station, not necessarily to the entire office or agency. Several agencies, including the Department of Education and the Department of Defense, have created model accommodation programs. One component of the Department of Education's program evaluates the level of accessibility of the software packages used by the agency. The Department of Defense, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense Health Affairs, has created the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) to provide assistive technology to employees and beneficiaries with disabilities who require accommodation to access computer or telecommunication systems. The CAP program is a model for accommodating individual needs, completing more than 477accommodation requests during fiscal years 1997 to 1999. Based on the experience from this program, the CAP has identified electronic and information technology systems with the highest incidence of accessibility or compatibility issues which parallel those addressed by the section 508 standards. This micro-evaluation confirms the need for the section 508 standards.

3.3 Persons with Disabilities Who Remain Unemployed

Table 3-2 shows the labor force activity for persons without disabilities and persons with severe disabilities.

Table 3-2 Activity in Labor Force, persons age 20 to 64
Characteristic No Disability Severe Disability
Total 123,042,000 14,350,000
Percent With labor force activity 84.5 29.5
Percent With no labor force activity 15.5 70.5
Source: Monthly Labor Review, September 1998.

The SIPP data do not allow for the construction of unemployment rates similar to the official rates produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics using the Current Population Survey (CPS). The labor force estimates from the SIPP cannot be compared to the CPS because the questions used to determine labor force status in each survey are significantly different, including the reference periods used for the two surveys. Employment status is determined in the SIPP through questions asking the respondent if they had a job or business, full time or part time, even if it was for just a few days during the reference period of the survey. If they report that they did not work, the subsequent questions ask whether they looked for work or were on layoff. Thus, labor force activity corresponded to those persons indicating that they have spent some time working, seeking work, or being laid off in the previous month. In addition, while the SIPP counts those in the military as employed, they are not included in the universe of the CPS. The SIPP data may actually overestimate the number of persons employed at the time of the survey due to the scope of the survey definition of labor force activity.

Over 70 percent of working age persons with severe disabilities have minimal or no employment. While some of these persons may be unable to work due to the severity of their disability, this 70 percent of the population of persons of working age with disabilities represents the labor pool for whom increased accessibility to electronic and information technology could enhance their employment opportunities. Increased accessibility reduces barriers to employment, and provides employers with a greater number of persons from whom they can search for qualified personnel.