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Chartbook on Women and Disability

Lita Jans, Ph.D.
Susan Stoddard, Ph.D.

2560 Ninth Street, Suite 320
Berkeley, CA 94710

Prepared for:
National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research
U.S. Department of Education
Washington, DC

Foreword | Preface | Acknowledgements | Introduction


The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) is committed to maximizing opportunities for all people with disabilities and to expanding national understanding of disability issues. In conjunction with this mission, NIDRR is pleased to publish this Chartbook on Women and Disability in the United States.

This book is a rich resource for anyone interested in disability and its impact on girls and women. The chartbook is one in a series of publications funded by NIDRR and produced by the InfoUse Center on Improving Access to Disability Data. The InfoUse Center makes available statistical information on disability, both in print and on the World Wide Web. Data is presented in an easy-to-read format, useful for people with different educational levels, technical skills, sensory disabilities, and cognitive capabilities. The chartbook is useful for people with disabilities, policymakers, advocates, planners, researchers, rehabilitation and health care professionals, and others interested in disability data and women.

In order to expand opportunities for the full participation of girls and women with disabilities in society, it is essential to understand the nature of that participation. The new paradigm of disability emphasizes the person with a disability acting in the environment and dealing with various opportunities and barriers in making life choices and achieving individual goals. The Chartbook on Women and Disability in the United States describes the current status of women with disabilities, relative to other women and men with and without disabilities, in a number of different aspects of life. By identifying the specific barriers and discrimination faced by girls and women, the chartbook paves the way for policy and attitudinal changes to ensure equal opportunity. The chartbook also highlights gaps in the research on both disability and gender. Hopefully, this information will stimulate further thoughtful discourse and the creation of policy innovations that will provide more and better opportunities for girls and women with disabilities.

Katherine D. Seelman, Ph.D., Director
National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research


The Chartbook on Women and Disability in the United States is a reference on women and disability in the United States population, created for use by both non-technical and technical audiences. The book is a resource for agencies, employers, organizations, policymakers, researchers and others concerned with the relationship between gender and disability.

Each section addresses an aspect of women and disability. Each page within the section contains a topic question, explanatory text on the topic and an explanatory graphic or table that provides data in an easy to read form. The figure title gives the name of the graphic and provides a reference to a corresponding data table at the back of the chartbook. The source of the information and the survey used to collect the data appear at the bottom of the page. In many cases, we also include information on relevant website addresses on the World Wide Web, where more detailed information may be stored. The key surveys, shown as links when mentioned in the text, have a technical summary that is located in the Appendix. In the text, key terms are also shown as links to their definitions in the Glossary.

How To Use This Site - Graphic


The Chartbook on Women and Disability in the United States relies on published data from many federal agencies and organizations. We are very grateful to all of the people and agencies responsible for collecting, maintaining, and analyzing these data. The following people graciously assisted us by providing current information, reviewing our text and graphics, and providing ideas for making the chartbook more accessible to blind and visually impaired people.

  • Carol D'Onofrio, Breast Health Access for Women with Disabilities and Northern California Cancer Center
  • Maureen Fitzgerald, Computer Technologies Program
  • Cille Kennedy, National Institute of Mental Health
  • Megan Kirshbaum & Paul Preston, National Resource Center for Parents with Disabilities, Through the Looking Glass
  • Corinne Kirshner & Janina Sajka, American Foundation for the Blind
  • Jack McNeil, U.S. Bureau of the Census
  • Margaret Nosek, Center for Research on Women with Disabilities, Baylor College of Medicine
  • Ellen Rubin, National Clearinghouse on Women and Girls with Disabilities, Educational Equity Concepts, Inc.
  • Lawrence Scadden, National Science Foundation
  • Dora Teimouri, Rehabilitation Services Administration
  • JoAnn Thierry, Centers for Disease Control
  • Barbara Wenger, Disability Statistics Research and Training Center

We also thank David Keer, NIDRR Project Officer, who provided statistical materials, expert advice, and ongoing encouragement.

This chartbook is a product of the InfoUse Center on Improving Access to Disability Data, a program supported by a grant by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (H133D50017-96). This is one of a series of products and activities intended to make information on disability and on disability statistics available to wider audiences.


Disability impacts women at all ages, across the entire life course. Girls and women with disabilities encounter a variety of barriers at different points in their lives. Young girls may need special programs to make education and future career opportunities accessible to them. Working-age women face barriers to entering and participating in the workforce. Inaccessible work environments, low wages, and lack of jobs leave many women with disabilities reliant on public benefits and living in poverty. Adult women with disabilities also encounter barriers to participating fully in other aspects of life, including obstacles to parenting, and lack of access to medical care. Elderly women with disabilities are a rapidly growing group, and often require distinct forms of assistance, equipment, or services in order to live independently. The chartbook examines these issues, comparing the demographics and experiences of women with disabilities to those of other women and men with and without disabilities.

Data included in the Chartbook on Women and Disability in the United States are derived from national surveys such as the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), including the 1994-95 Survey on Disability, the Current Population Survey (CPS), and the Decennial Census ("the Census"). In addition, other analyses by federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration, the Rehabilitation Services Administration and others are summarized. In some areas of investigation, comprehensive national data sources are not available and smaller or more specialized surveys and databases are utilized.

The chartbook is organized in seven major sections:

Section 1 introduces the topic of women and disability throughout the life cycle, providing an overview of gender and disability across the life span.

Section 2 focuses on children and youth with disability, including prevalence, conditions, educational programs and certain benefits.

Section 3 examines the complex issues of women with disabilities and work, including labor force participation, earnings and benefits.

Section 4 covers the broad topics of family life and living arrangements, as well as certain medical experiences of women with disabilities.

Section 5 reviews differences between women and men in terms of disability due to mental illness, including prevalence of mental conditions, utilization of mental health services, and limitations caused by mental illness.

Section 6 discusses the disability-related effects of aging on women, including the much higher rates of disability and multiple conditions and changing personal assistance needs. Caregiving, another women's issue related to aging and disability, is also discussed.

Section 7 presents gaps in the research on women and disabilities that need further attention and research.