July 23, 2020
With the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) happening this weekend as Black Lives Matter protests continue, it’s a good time to look at the intersection between race and disability in the United States. The figure below compares disability rates by age, sex, and race for non-Latinx adults. The data in the figure comes from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). A person is counted as disabled if they answer “yes” to any one of five questions in the survey.
Disability rates for the four groups in the figure (White Men, Black Men, White Women, and Black Women) are roughly the same for young adults (18 to 34-year-olds) and increase with age for all four groups. However, the increases are much larger for Black men and women than for White men and women. Nearly 30 percent of Black 55 to 64-year-olds have one or more disabilities compared to about 20 percent of White people in the same age range.
After age 64, the growth in disability rates levels off for Black men, but not for the other three groups. This seems surprising, but is likely due to higher mortality rates for Black men. There are 83 Black men age 55-64 for every 100 Black women in the same age range, but among Black men and women age 65-74, the ratio drops to 69 Black men for every 100 Black women.
Among people with disabilities, there is also a racial gap in material hardships, including food insecurity and income poverty. For example, according to the NHIS, about 40 percent of Black disabled adults were food insecure in 2016–2018 compared to about 22 percent of White disabled adults.
The ADA has an important role to play in addressing the accumulated injustices and disadvantages that drive the black-white disability gap among all adults and the black-white hardship gap among disabled adults. But closing these gaps will take a wide range of fundamental reforms that go far beyond the ADA.