Blindness Statistics

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 U.S. 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 July 28, 2014, from http://www.aph.org/federal-quota/dist14.html.

Disability Statistics, American Community Survey (2012)

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 2012.

Prevalence:

  • Total: 659,700
    • Girls: 319,100
    • Boys: 340,600

Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. (2014). Disability Statistics from the 2012 American Community Survey (ACS). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute (EDI). Retrieved Jul 28, 2014, from www.disabilitystatistics.org.

Blindness among adults (2012)

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 2012, 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 2012.

  • Total (all ages): 6,670,300
    • Total (16 to 75+): 6,211,700
      • Women: 3,411,000
      • Men: 2,800,700
    • Age 18 to 64: 3,412,900
    • Age 65 and older: 2,724,600

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 2012.

  • White: 4,802,600 (2.1%)
  • Black/African American: 1,117,000 (2.9%)
  • Hispanic: 1,079,900 (2.1%)
  • Asian: 190,000 (1.2%)
  • American Indian or Alaska Native: 95,600 (3.8%)
  • Some other race(s): 465,100 (2.0%)

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 2012.

Alabama

147,100

Alaska

19,300

Arizona

131,300

Arkansas

93,100

California

701,400

Colorado

92,100

Connecticut

54,800

Delaware

17,700

District of Columbia

15,900

Florida

434,600

Georgia

239,300

Hawaii

22,000

Idaho

36,700

Illinois

241,600

Indiana

139,400

Iowa

50,000

Kansas

51,300

Kentucky

128,200

Louisiana

145,700

Maine

29,700

Maryland

97,600

Massachusetts

118,500

Michigan

199,400

Minnesota

77,400

Mississippi

102,400

Missouri

138,700

Montana

21,600

Nebraska

32,300

Nevada

59,900

New Hampshire

21,200

New Jersey

168,800

New Mexico

69,600

New York

356,700

North Carolina

242,200

North Dakota

10,800

Ohio

236,900

Oklahoma

113,600

Oregon

83,500

Pennsylvania

271,400

Rhode Island

20,600

South Carolina

122,800

South Dakota

14,600

Tennessee

177,000

Texas

619,500

Utah

39,400

Vermont

14,700

Virginia

146,600

Washington

125,700

West Virginia

67,300

Wisconsin

98,300

Wyoming

10,400

Puerto Rico

217,800

Educational Attainment (U.S.)

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 2012. These numbers refer to the highest level of education attained by a given individual.

  • Less than high school graduation: 878,800 (26.7%)
  • High school diploma or a GED: 1,060,500 (32.3%)
  • Some college education/associates degree:  955,000 (29.1%)
  • Bachelor's degree or higher: 391,700 (11.9%)

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 2012.

  • Median Annual Earnings: $32,300
  • Median Annual Household Income: $33,400
  • Number living below the poverty line: 1,022,500 (31.2%)

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 2012 was 609,100 (18.5%).

Health Insurance Status

The number of non-institutionalized persons aged 21 to 64 years with a visual disability in the United States in 2012.

  • Uninsured: 726,000 (22.1%)
  • Insured: 2,560,100 (77.9%)
    • Employer/Union: 1,022,600 (31.1%)  
    • Purchased: 270,900 (8.2%) 
    • Medicare: 770,000 (23.4%)  
    • Medicaid: 1,187,600 (36.1%) 
    • Military/VA: 186,400 (5.7%)
    • Indian Health Service: 27,200 (0.8%) 

Employment (U.S.)

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 2012.

  • Employed: 1,240,200
    • Full-time/Full-year Employment: 809,900
  • Unemployment (in the labor force): 250,900
  • Unemployment (not in the labor force): 1,795,000

Therefore, for working age adults reporting significant vision loss, only 37.7% were employed in 2012.

Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. (2014). Disability Statistics from the 2012 American Community Survey (ACS). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute (EDI). Retrieved Jul 28, 2014, 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. (2014). General Information. Accessed July 28, 2014, from https://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 2014 survey from WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind), Screen Reader User Survey #5 Results. WebAIM is a non-profit organization based at the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University.

Further Resources

 Page Updated: August 6, 2014