Americans with disabilities must be counted in 2020 Census

Americans with disabilities must be counted in 2020 Census
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Every 10 years, the United States Census Bureau counts every resident, regardless of age, nationality or ability, in order to inform the allocation of more than $675 billion in federal funds for states and communities over the next decade. This money is used to address disparities in housing, health care, employment, education and transportation. Communities’ health, well-being and political power rests on a just and correct census count. Elected officials cannot make informed decisions about how to distribute federal tax dollars fairly and effectively without an accurate accounting of the population.

According to the Census Bureau, the 2000 Census counted 49.7 million people with some type of long-lasting condition or disability, and in the 2010 Census, that number rose to 56.7 million. People with a disability are defined as a person having a physical or mental impairment that affects one or more major life activities, such as walking, bathing, dressing or eating. The 2010 Census showed that over 30 million people 15 and older had movement impairment and 12 million people 15 and older required the assistance of others in order to perform one of more basic or instrumental activities of daily living. 

The decennial census determines allocations for real-life necessities critical to people with disabilities including Medicaid, Medicare, State Children’s Health Insurance Programs, Head Start and Early Head Start, special education grants, and vocational rehabilitation services. One in four Americans lives with a disability, and a true census count is essential to those who need these programs. 

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The 2020 Census is the first decennial census in U.S. history to have a full internet option and to use technology extensively to manage and conduct field work. Because of these technological advancements, there are various ways people with disabilities can ensure they are included and represented when critical funding decisions are made. Touch points focused on technologies and systems have been designed to ease and streamline participation, such as a variety of accessible tools available on www.2020census.gov. Tools include video guides in American Sign Language (ASL), with closed or open captioning, Braille and large print versions of the questionnaire, telephone access for the hearing impaired, and an option for those who are deaf or hard of hearing to request a visit from a census taker who is fluent in ASL. 

Fair proportionate voting representation depends on valid census data. The highest possible response will present the census to the government as a true representation that attests to the number of people in the United States who are living with disabilities. This ultimately would result in the likelihood that a larger amount of funding will be allocated to the essential support and services that help people with disabilities and their families in their daily lives. In a scenario where a significant number of people with disabilities don’t respond to the census, the data generated from the information gathering process will misrepresent how wide the actual number spans. Accordingly, the potential for funding of critical services will be lessened. 

Several possible factors can be attributed to people with disabilities being afraid or reluctant to fill out the census. They may feel that they will be unfairly categorized and stigmatized as “disabled,” or they may be concerned that key information about their identity will be shared. Decennial census records are confidential for 72 years to protect each respondent’s privacy, and the census does not obtain disability information. It’s important to generate a true, viable and quantifiable representation of the number of people in the United States living with disabilities to have a more positive correlation between census representation and services’ funding allocations. 

To ensure everyone is included and empowered in public policy and social representation, different groups and nonprofits are promoting the importance of participation through service centers nationwide, home visits and community partnerships. Easterseals, a national network of 68 affiliates that delivers services and advances advocacy for children and adults with disabilities, veterans, seniors and their families, is advancing census participation among the 1.5 million people it serves annually through its more than 500 community-based centers nationwide. Many Easterseals locations are hosting open houses on “Census Day” on April 1 to support people with disabilities and their families and to ensure they are represented for the next 10 years through census participation. 

The U.S. Constitution requires the census to ensure fair political representation. Community leaders and elected officials rely on accurate census data to make funding decisions about education, senior citizen and veteran supports, and other community allocations. It is critical to get the numbers right. To be counted is to be heard and represented in your community. 

Angela Williams is president and CEO of Easterseals. Follow her on Twitter @AngelaFWilliams.