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Chartbook on Disability in the U.S.

Section 1: Prevalence of Disabilities

1.2. How many people are severely limited in physical functions?

Of all noninstitutionalized persons age 15 and over in the United States, 17.5% have a functional limitation (34.2 million people).

Many people have more than one limitation. For 17.5 million, it is going up a flight of stairs without resting; for 17.3 million people the limitation is in walking a quarter of a mile; for 16.2 million it is lifting or carrying something as heavy as a bag of groceries; for 10.9 million, it is hearing what is said in normal conversation; for 9.7 million, it is seeing words or letters in ordinary newsprint, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses; for 7.8 million, it is getting around outside the home; for 5.3 million, it is getting into and out of bed; for 3.7 million, it is getting around inside the home; and for 2.3 million, it is having one's own speech understood.

People have a physically severe functional limitation if they are unable to perform a physical function or if they need the help of another person to perform the function. An estimated 7.8% of those age 15 and older (15.2 million people) are severely limited in the functions of seeing, hearing, having speech understood, lifting or carrying, walking, or using stairs.

A quarter of the population over 15 years old has some functional limitation, and nearly one-third of them has a severe limitation.

Figure 1.2

Source: McNeil, 1993

Survey: NHIS, 1992

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