Statistical Facts about Blindness in the United States

Definitions

There are several ways to define blindness.

  • Many people regard blindness as the 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 people to consider themselves as 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, 2016 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: 62,528
  • By reporting agency:
    • Reported by state departments of education: 52,003 (83.1%)
    • Reported by residential schools for the blind: 5,116 (8.2%)
    • Reported by rehabilitation programs: 3,860 (6.2%)
    • Reported by multiple disability programs: 1,549 (2.5%)
  • By primary reading medium:
    • Braille readers: 5,093 (8.2%)
    • Print readers: 19,717 (31.5%)
    • Auditory readers: 6,686 (10.7%)
    • Non-readers/Symbolic Readers: 20,821 (33.3%)
    • Pre-readers: 10,211 (16.3%)

American Printing House for the Blind, "Annual Report 2016: Distribution of Eligible Students Based on the Federal Quota Census of January 3, 2015 (Fiscal Year 2016)." Retrieved from http://www.aph.org/federal-quota/distribution-of-students-2016/

Disability Statistics, American Community Survey (2015)

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 2015.

Prevalence:

  • Total: 678,000 (0.78%)
    • Girls: 324,000 (0.76%)
    • Boys: 354,000 (0.8%)

Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. (2017). Disability Statistics from the American Community Survey (ACS). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Yang-Tan Institute (YTI). Retrieved from Cornell University Disability Statistics website: www.disabilitystatistics.org

Blindness Among Adults (2015)

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 2015, 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 2015.

  • Total (all ages): 7,297,100 (2.3%)
    • Total (16 to 75+): 6,833,000 (2.7%)
      • Women: 3,738,400 (2.87%)
      • Men: 3,094,600 (2.53%)
    • Age 16 to 64: 3,847,100 (1.9%)
    • Age 65 and older: 2,985,900 (6.4%)

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 2015.

  • White: 5,270,600 (2.3%)
  • Black/African American: 1,154,900 (2.9%)
  • Hispanic: 1,174,400 (2.1%)
  • Asian: 230,300 (1.3%)
  • American Indian or Alaska Native: 102,500 (4.0%)
  • Some other race(s): 538,900 (2.1%)

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 2015.

Alabama 148,600
Alaska 13,400
Arizona 161,400
Arkansas 102,000
California 763,800
Colorado 101,700
Connecticut 61,100
Delaware 17,600
District of Columbia 16,900
Florida 486,400
Georgia 262,800
Hawaii 22,700
Idaho 38,100
Illinois 236,100
Indiana 156,300
Iowa 59,400
Kansas 59,300
Kentucky 138,800
Louisiana 134,400
Maine 27,400
Maryland 108,700
Massachusetts 124,100
Michigan 221,400
Minnesota 85,000
Mississippi 93,600
Missouri 147,400
Montana 19,400
Nebraska 39,500
Nevada 108,400
New Hampshire 25,700
New Jersey 162,800
New Mexico 64,400
New York 387,900
North Carolina 269,600
North Dakota 12,800
Ohio 275,600
Oklahoma 124,100
Oregon 99,400
Pennsylvania 300,000
Rhode Island 19,600
South Carolina 147,000
South Dakota 15,500
Tennessee 203,800
Texas 655,500
Utah 51,000
Vermont 13,400
Virginia 168,100
Washington 162,800
West Virginia 71,100
Wisconsin 97,300
Wyoming 14,200
Puerto Rico 207,100

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 2015. These numbers refer to the highest level of education attained by a given individual.

  • Less than high school graduation: 842,800 (23.2%)
  • High school diploma or a GED: 1,138,100 (31.3%)
  • Some college education/associates degree: 1,110,800 (30.6%)
  • Bachelor's degree or higher: 541,500 (14.9%)

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 2015.

  • Median Annual Earnings: $37,600
  • Median Annual Household Income: $39,700
  • Number living below the poverty line: 1,052,500 (29.0%)

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 2015 was 628,900 (17.3%).

Health Insurance Status

The number of non-institutionalized persons aged 21 to 64 years with a visual disability in the United States in 2015.

  • Uninsured: 497,200 (13.7%)
  • Insured: 3,136,000 (86.3%)
    • Employer/Union: 1,247,900 (34.3%)
    • Purchased: 395,400 (10.9%)
    • Medicare: 784,400 (21.6%)
    • Medicaid: 1,408,700 (38.8%)
    • Military/VA: 204,600 (5.6%)
    • Indian Health Service: 33,000 (0.9%)

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 2015.

  • Employed: 1,526,100
  • Full-time/Full-year Employment: 1,019,100
  • Unemployment (in the labor force, i.e., actively looking): 187,500

Therefore, for working age adults reporting significant vision loss, only 42.0% were employed in 2015.

Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. (2017). Disability Statistics from the American Community Survey (ACS). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Yang-Tan Institute (YTI). Retrieved from Cornell University Disability Statistics website: 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% of all people who are blind and visually impaired work with guide dogs.”

Guiding Eyes for the Blind. (2017). "General Information." Accessed August 8, 2017, 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

American Foundation for the Blind, "Statistical Snapshots from the American Foundation for the Blind." Retrieved from http://www.afb.org/info/blindness-statistics/2

Bell, E. C., & Mino, N. M. (2015). “Employment Outcomes for Blind and Visually Impaired Adults.” Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research, 5(2). Retrieved from https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/jbir/jbir15/jbir050202.html. doi: 10.5241/5-85.

Brault, Matthew W., United States Economics and Statistics Administration, United States Bureau of the Census. "Americans with disabilities: 2010." Current population reports. no. 131 (2012). Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2012/demo/p70-131.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Vision Health Initiative (VHI): Data & Statistics.” Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/data/index.html

National Center for Special Education Research, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncser/

Eye Institute, "Blindness, Statistics and Data [NEI]." Retrieved from https://www.nei.nih.gov/eyedata/blind.

Blindness America, "Vision Problems in the US: Prevalence of Adult Vision Impairment and Age-Related Eye Disease in America." Last modified 2012. Retrieved from http://www.visionproblemsus.org/index.html.

United States Bureau of the Census, "American FactFinder." Retrieved from http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml.

Data From Previous Years

Blindness Statistics 2014

Blindness Statistics 2013

Blindness Statistics 2012

Blindness Statistics 2011

Page Updated: September 2017