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 September 9, 2015, from http://www.aph.org/federal-quota/dist14.html.

Disability Statistics, American Community Survey (2013)

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 2013.

Prevalence:

  • Total: 694,300
    • Girls: 333,500
    • Boys: 360,700

Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. (2015). Disability Statistics from the 2013 American Community Survey (ACS). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute (EDI). Retrieved September 9, 2015, from www.disabilitystatistics.org.

Blindness among adults (2013)

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 2013, 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 2013.

  • Total (all ages): 7,327,800
    • Total (16 to 75+): 6,846,000
      • Women: 3,793,300
      • Men: 3,052,700
    • Age 18 to 64: 3,805,600
    • Age 65 and older: 2,966,300

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 2013.

  • White: 5,328,700 (2.3%)
  • Black/African American: 1,144,900 (2.9%)
  • Hispanic: 1,146,100 (2.1%)
  • Asian: 221,800 (1.4%)
  • American Indian or Alaska Native: 98,700 (4.0%)
  • Some other race(s): 533,700 (2.2%)

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 2013.

Alabama

143,900

Alaska

13,600

Arizona

157,100

Arkansas

98,100

California

790,700

Colorado

106,600

Connecticut

65,300

Delaware

20,800

District of Columbia

12,600

Florida

494,900

Georgia

262,400

Hawaii

25,600

Idaho

42,700

Illinois

266,500

Indiana

165,400

Iowa

53,100

Kansas

54,200

Kentucky

138,700

Louisiana

147,800

Maine

27,200

Maryland

111,900

Massachusetts

136,500

Michigan

229,400

Minnesota

83,500

Mississippi

107,700

Missouri

143,900

Montana

23,800

Nebraska

33,600

Nevada

81,100

New Hampshire

22,000

New Jersey

179,100

New Mexico

71,300

New York

402,800

North Carolina

252,800

North Dakota

11,500

Ohio

270,900

Oklahoma

124,400

Oregon

107,300

Pennsylvania

285,300

Rhode Island

23,700

South Carolina

127,600

South Dakota

18,700

Tennessee

203,900

Texas

634,600

Utah

45,600

Vermont

13,800

Virginia

155,100

Washington

147,500

West Virginia

72,200

Wisconsin

106,600

Wyoming

12,600

Puerto Rico

206,400

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 2013. These numbers refer to the highest level of education attained by a given individual.

  • Less than high school graduation: 878,600 (24.0%)
  • High school diploma or a GED: 1,171,600 (31.9%)
  • Some college education/associates degree: 1,113,800 (30.4%)
  • Bachelor's degree or higher: 503,300 (13.7%)

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 2013.

  • Median Annual Earnings: $35,300
  • Median Annual Household Income: $36,500
  • Number living below the poverty line: 1,098,100 (30.0%)

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 2013 was 631,100 (17.2%).

Health Insurance Status

The number of non-institutionalized persons aged 21 to 64 years with a visual disability in the United States in 2013.

  • Uninsured: 775,900 (21.2%)
  • Insured: 2,891,300 (78.8%)
    • Employer/Union: 1,230,300 (33.5%)
    • Purchased: 319,400 (8.7%)
    • Medicare: 788,900 (21.5%)
    • Medicaid: 1,252,800 (34.2%)
    • Military/VA: 221,000 (6.0%)
    • Indian Health Service: 29,500 (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 2013.

  • Employed: 1,474,700
    • Full-time/Full-year Employment: 968,600
  • Unemployment (in the labor force, i.e., actively looking): 263,800

Therefore, for working age adults reporting significant vision loss, only 40.2% were employed in 2013.

Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. (2015). "Disability Statistics from the 2013 American Community Survey (ACS)." Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute (EDI). Retrieved September 10, 2015, 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. (2015). "General Information." Accessed September 10, 2015, 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 July 2015 survey from WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind), Screen Reader User Survey #6 Results. WebAIM is a non-profit organization based at the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University.

Further Resources

 Page Updated: September 2015