Blindness Statistics

Statistical Facts about Blindness in the United States in 2011

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 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 estimates, 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, 2012 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: 59,193
  • By reporting agency
    • Reported by state departments of education: 49,794 (84.1%)
    • Reported by residential schools for the blind: 4,859 (8.2%)
    • Reported by rehabilitation programs:  3,301 (5.6%)
    • Reported by multiple disability programs: 1,239 (2.1%)
  • By primary reading medium
    • Braille readers: 5,186 (8.8%)
    • Print readers: 16,635 (28.1%)
    • Auditory readers:  4,728 (8.0%)
    • Non-readers: 20,361 (34.4%)
    • Pre-readers: 12,283 (20.7%)

American Printing House for the Blind, "Annual Report 2012: Distribution of Eligible Students Based on the Federal Quota Census of January 3, 2011 (Fiscal Year 2012)." Accessed April 10, 2013. http://www.aph.org/fedquotpgm/dist11.html.

Disability Statistics, American Community Survey

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 2011.

Prevalence:

  • Total: 656,100
    • Girls: 308,600
    • Boys: 347,700

Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. (2013). Disability Statistics from the 2011 American Community Survey (ACS). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute (EDI). Retrieved Apr 08, 2013 from www.disabilitystatistics.org.

Blindness among adults

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 2011, as interpreted by Cornell University's Employment and Disability Institute (EDI).

Prevalence of Visual Disability

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 2011.

  • Total: 6,636,900
  • Women: 3,665,200
  • Men: 2,971,600
  • Age 18 to 64: 3,372,400
  • Age 65 and older: 2,743,600

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 2011.

  • White: 4,780,300
  • Black/African American: 1,121,500
  • Hispanic: 1,041,100
  • Asian: 178,000
  • American Indian or Alaska Native: 90,700
  • Some other race(s): 466,300

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 2011.

Alabama

145,600

Alaska

12,400

Arizona

127,200

Arkansas

93,500

California

704,800

Colorado

92,000

Connecticut

57,500

Delaware

19,400

District of Columbia

13,600

Florida

430,000

Georgia

244,500

Hawaii

21,800

Idaho

35,600

Illinois

220,300

Indiana

142,200

Iowa

48,700

Kansas

57,000

Kentucky

130,800

Louisiana

142,800

Maine

27,100

Maryland

102,400

Massachusetts

117,300

Michigan

216,200

Minnesota

75,000

Mississippi

99,200

Missouri

154,200

Montana

23,400

Nebraska

26,100

Nevada

55,200

New Hampshire

21,000

New Jersey

168,200

New Mexico

62,100

New York

351,900

North Carolina

234,000

North Dakota

12,600

Ohio

245,800

Oklahoma

111,900

Oregon

82,000

Pennsylvania

259,500

Rhode Island

18,200

South Carolina

120,100

South Dakota

16,500

Tennessee

183,900

Texas

615,800

Utah

37,100

Vermont

9,800

Virginia

140,500

Washington

128,900

West Virginia

66,500

Wisconsin

104,800

Wyoming

9,800

Puerto Rico

227,700

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 2011.

  • Less than high school graduation: 4,232,100
  • High school diploma or a GED: 1,061,600
  • Some college education/associates degree:  939,700
  • Bachelor's degree or higher: 374,400

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 2011.

  • Median Annual Earnings: $33,200
  • Median Annual Household Income: $32,600
  • Number living below the poverty line: 1,002,700 (31.0%)

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 2011 was 604,700 (18.7%).

Health Insurance Status

The number of non-institutionalized persons aged 21 to 64 years with a visual disability in the United States in 2011.

  • Uninsured: 740,500 (22.9%)
  • Insured: 2,496,600 (77.1%)
    • Employer/Union: 1,012,900 (31.3%)
    • Purchased: 269,000 (8.3%)
    • Medicare: 726,300 (22.4%)
    • Medicaid: 1,138,400 (35.2%)
    • Military/VA: 186,400 (5.8%)
    • Indian Health Service: 26,200 (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 2011.

  • Employed: 1,225,080
    • Full-time/Full-year Employment: 770,000
  • Unemployment (in the labor force): 302,909
  • Unemployment (not in the labor force): 1,849,048

Therefore, for working age adults reporting significant vision loss, only 36.8% were employed.

Mobility and Computer Use

There are no reliable current statistics on use of canes, use of dog guides, or use of computers and the Internet.

Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. (2013). Disability Statistics from the 2011 American Community Survey (ACS). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute (EDI). Retrieved Apr 05, 2013 from www.disabilitystatistics.org.

Further Resources