Summer 2012: TLG National News: A New National Project

Parents with disabilities remain invisible, discriminated against and underserved across the U.S. Disabled parents’ increasing demand for information, resources and support have been documented in two national surveys conducted by TLG, as well as meetings of the national Task Force of Parents with Disabilities. Many families of parents with disabilities without appropriate resources to address routine and extraordinary stressors are at risk. Nevertheless, a major barrier to the development of accessible and disability-appropriate services for these families is the lack of data on these families. How many parents with disabilities are there? How many parents with physical disabilities or parents who are deaf are there? What is their gender, marital status or household income?

Most local, regional and national service systems -- whether focused on families, disabilities or more general services such as health, education, employment and social services -- do not keep statistics on how many, if any, parents with disabilities are being served. This, in turn, reinforces a vicious cycle: service providers and service systems are reluctant to allocate resources or develop appropriate services for the families of parents with disabilities without adequate justification.

Until now, there have only been a handful of studies -- none within the past fifteen years -- that provide an estimate on the number of parents with disabilities in the U.S. Besides fairly outdated figures, there are three overriding concerns with these estimates. First, previous national estimates on the number of parents with disabilities vary widely: Is it 8 million, 2 million, or 6 million? Such apparent discrepancies reflect different data sources, different definitions of disability, whether only those parents who have children under age 18 are counted, or whether to count only those parents whose children live with them. Without clarifying how the estimates were derived, the estimates appear contradictory and less convincing. Another issue is that estimates usually lump all types of disabilities and all races/ethnicities together. For example, most estimates do not tell us how many parents with vision disabilities there are compared with parents who have mobility disabilities. Nor do we know how many African American parents with disabilities there are compared with Native American parents with disabilities. Perhaps the biggest concern for potential funding at a local or regional level is that all previous estimates are national – that is, the estimates are not broken down by state or county.

One of Through the Looking Glass’ national research projects wanted to address these concerns by coming up with new national estimates on parents with disabilities – for each state and county as well as for the entire U.S. Funded as part of its 2009-2011 grant (#H133A08004) to its National Center for Parents with Disabilities by NIDRR (National Institute on Disability Rehabilitation and Research, U.S. Department of Education), this study was conducted by Dr. H. Stephen Kaye of the University of California San Francisco. Using demographic data from the American Community Survey, Dr. Kaye provides new estimates on the number of U.S. parents with disabilities: There are 4.1 million parents with disabilities with children under age 18 and living at home with them (6.2% of all U.S. parents). He was also able to provide estimates by state and county that include the parent’s gender, ethnicity/race, disability type, marital status and household income.

These new national, state and county estimates on the number of parents with disabilities are now available on our website: Current Demographics of Parents with Disabilities in the U.S.