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Chartbook on Work and Disability

Section 2: Work Disability and the Labor Force

2.1. How does employment status differ for people with different disabilities or functional limitations?

The likelihood of employment varies significantly among people with different disabilities and different functional limitations. The SIPP asks questions about disability status to determine whether a person uses a wheelchair, has used a cane, crutches or walker for at least 6 months, or has a mental disability. Functional activities measured by the SIPP include the ability to perform specific sensory and physical activities such as seeing ordinary newspaper print, hearing normal conversation, having speech understood, lifting or carrying 10 pounds, walking a quarter of a mile without resting, or climbing a flight of stairs without resting. Difficulty in performing any of these activities is considered a functional limitation.

Among people with no disability, 82.1% are employed. The percentage employed drops sharply for people with different functional limitations and other disabilities. Of those with mental disabilities, 41.3% are employed. The percentage employed is even lower for people with mobility impairments, including those who use a cane, crutches, or walker (27.5%) or a wheelchair (22%).

Among people who have functional limitations, 32.2% are employed. There is great variation in employment, depending on the type of limitation, with lower rates in mobility-related impairments. People unable to walk 3 city blocks have 22.5% employment. Employment for people unable to climb stairs is 25.5%; for those unable to lift or carry 10 pounds, 27%; for people with visual impairments (unable to see words or letters), 30.8%; and for those unable to hear conversation, 59.7%.

Employment is lowest for people with mobility impairments.

Bar graph showing the percentage of those employed with functional limitations or disabilities.

Figure 6: Percentage employed, by disability status and type of functional limitation

Source: McNeil (1997), Table 2.

Surveys: SIPP, 1994-95.

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