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, 2015 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 US 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: 61,739
  • By reporting agency
    • Reported by state departments of education: 51,271 (83.04%)
    • Reported by residential schools for the blind: 5,196 (8.42%)
    • Reported by rehabilitation programs: 3,659 (5.93%)
    • Reported by multiple disability programs: 1,613 (2.61%)
  • By primary reading medium
    • Braille readers: 5,333 (8.64%)
    • Print readers: 19,109 (30.95%)
    • Auditory readers: 5,795 (9.39%)
    • Non-readers: 21,032 (34.07%)
    • Pre-readers: 10,470 (16.96%)

American Printing House for the Blind, "Annual Report 2015: Distribution of Eligible Students Based on the Federal Quota Census of January 6, 2014 (Fiscal Year 2015)." Accessed November 11, 2016, from http://www.aph.org/federal-quota/distribution-2015/.

Disability Statistics, American Community Survey (2014)

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 2014.

Prevalence:

  • Total: 665,200 (2.2%)
    • Girls: 316,700 (2.2%)
    • Boys: 347,800 (2.3%)

Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. (2016). Disability Statistics from the 2014 American Community Survey (ACS). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute (EDI). Retrieved November 11, 2016, from www.disabilitystatistics.org.

Blindness Among Adults (2014)

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 2014, 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 2014.

  • Total (all ages): 7,358,400 (2.3%)
    • Total (16 to 75+): 6,906,500 (8.6%)
      • Women: 3,810,600 (9.0%)
      • Men: 3,095,900 (8.0%)
    • Age 18 to 64: 3,831,700 (1.9%)
    • Age 65 and older: 3,000,400 (6.7%)

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 2014.

  • White: 5,348,700 (2.3%)
  • Black/African American: 1,143,500 (2.9%) 
  • Hispanic: 1,179,800 (2.2%)
  • Asian: 230,400 (1.4%)
  • American Indian or Alaska Native: 95,300 (3.8%)
  • Some other race(s): 540,400 (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 2014.

Alabama

137,900

Alaska

13,600

Arizona

163,800

Arkansas

95,500

California

764,200

Colorado

103,500

Connecticut

60,300

Delaware

19,500

District of Columbia

17,400

Florida

469,300

Georgia

261,300

Hawaii

24,000

Idaho

35,400

Illinois

255,200

Indiana

166,300

Iowa

50,300

Kansas

62,300

Kentucky

145,200

Louisiana

135,100

Maine

33,200

Maryland

116,400

Massachusetts

130,300

Michigan

229,900

Minnesota

87,100

Mississippi

101,300

Missouri

157,000

Montana

20,900

Nebraska

32,900

Nevada

87,000

New Hampshire

21,100

New Jersey

177,500

New Mexico

70,500

New York

415,700

North Carolina

254,100

North Dakota

13,800

Ohio

271,700

Oklahoma

135,500

Oregon

103,900

Pennsylvania

287,000

Rhode Island

25,600

South Carolina

144,000

South Dakota

21,300

Tennessee

199,400

Texas

657,300

Utah

50,100

Vermont

15,700

Virginia

162,500

Washington

155,300

West Virginia

79,900

Wisconsin

104,400

Wyoming

15,900

Puerto Rico

221,600

Educational Attainment (US)

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 2014. These numbers refer to the highest level of education attained by a given individual.

  • Less than high school graduation: 875,300 (23.7%)
  • High school diploma or a GED: 1,163,900 (31.5%)
  • Some college education/associates degree: 1,122,600 (30.4%)
  • Bachelor's degree or higher: 531,000 (14.4%)

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 2014.

  • Median Annual Earnings: $35,800
  • Median Annual Household Income: $37,500
  • Number living below the poverty line: 1,124,200 (30.5%)

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 2014 was 662,000 (17.9%).

Health Insurance Status

The number of non-institutionalized persons aged 21 to 64 years with a visual disability in the United States in 2014.

  • Uninsured: 626,200 (17.0%)
  • Insured: 3,066,600 (83.0%)
    • Employer/Union: 1,242,500 (33.6%)
    • Purchased: 359,400 (9.7%)
    • Medicare: 820,800 (22.2%)
    • Medicaid: 1,374,800 (37.2%)
    • Military/VA: 194,500 (5.3%)
    • Indian Health Service: 28,300 (0.8%)

Employment (US)

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 2014.

  • Employed: 1,492,700
    • Full-time/Full-year Employment: 988,200
  • Unemployment (in the labor force, i.e., actively looking): 212,300 

Therefore, for working age adults reporting significant vision loss, only 40.4% were employed in 2014.

Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. (2016). "Disability Statistics from the 2014 American Community Survey (ACS)." Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute (EDI). Retrieved November 11, 2016, 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. (2016). "General Information." Accessed November 11, 2016, 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: November 2016