Monday, March 9, 2009

How Many of Us Are There, Anyway?

For a number of reasons, I've been wondering how many wheelchair and scooter users there are. The best information I could find comes from a study done in May 2002, though with an aging boomer population and swift sales of mobility scooters and less expensive wheelchairs, I imagine a lot has changed even in the past seven years. The study does exclude those living in institutions. I presume "institutions" include prisons, college dorms, and temporary hospitalization during the survey, which could skew the sample.

From the Disability Statistics Center:
An estimated 1.6 million Americans residing outside of institutions use wheelchairs, according to 199495 data from the National Health Interview Survey on Disability (NHIS-D). Most (1.5 million) use manual devices, with only 155,000 people using electric wheelchairs.
The footnotes tell us: "There are also an estimated 142,000 scooter users, for a total of 1.7 million users of wheelchairs or scooters."

I'm not sure why scooter users are excluded from the 155,000 since many people use scooters as wheelchairs rather than for very long distances only. I'm curious about how the sampling was done and how part-time use counts since many people do not need wheelchairs in their homes but do need them outside their homes; I am assuming that temporary use was excluded, though maybe it shouldn't be since this population also needs accommodation.

But basically, there are at least 2 million wheelchair and scooter users whom we can expect to see out and about regularly (and many more that are invisible to us), and probably that can be multiplied several times more if you include temporary disability. Most use manual wheelchairs, though I have to wonder if more don't need power wheelchairs.

Other facts:
-0.4 of the working age population uses a wheelchair. Given that some people may be unable to work because of health and that scooter use isn't added in, that means we should expect at least 1 in every 300 employees to use a wheelchair. Again, maybe far more if you include temporary use. And we should see a far higher percentage than 1/300 employees with a major disability since there are many manifestations of disability.
-About 80% of wheelchair users perceive themselves as having a disability.
-Women are more likely to use power chairs (limited upper body strength?).

Rather than saying "educational attainment is low," I'd suggest that barriers to education still exist, both physical and attitudinal.

One table can be used to address public misconception of wheelchair users as unable to move or walk at all, and combined are 5 times more common than paralysis or amputation. Of course there is also partial paralysis, people with MS may be able to walk some, and some people with stroke may be able to ambulate a short distance. Surprisingly, muscular dystrophy, ALS, and similar diseases don't even show up in the statistics--I hope people were self-reporting rather than offered a list of options.


Elizabeth McClung said...

I find that surprising because three of the last five Ms. Wheelchair USA have had MD. Does it include CFS/M.E.? And spina bifida? I know in Canada the unemployment rate for wheelchair/scooter users is above 75%, for those who are not stable like para's, or able to be in a crude term, "Able bodied while sitting down" - the level of unemployment skyrockets to over 90% - which is actually not on par with education. IF you have a bachalors degree and AB you have a 8% chance of being unemployeed, if you are in a wheelchair, you have a 75-85% chance. Which is why I always ask, "How the heck did Stephen Hawkings get hired?" Obviously because he wasn't Canadian but also, as I was told, eliminate most of my job experience and all of my degrees and I COULD get a job, doing data entry at home. There is nothing subtle about the discrimination and 'what those type are good for'.

It is obviously better to be employeed during the transition to disability but even that is no surity, due to the threat posed to upper management; you are always a lawsuit and a needed accomadation waiting to happen - thus seen as more trouble than you are worth in most places (Ironic because within 10 to 20 years most of these senior managers will need assistive devices).

Thank you for provoking me to think on this topic, or at least sort of close to this topic.

FridaWrites said...

You're right, the study doesn't include
CFS/ME, spina bifida, or MD, or another "other causes" category, which makes me think that people were offered a range of choices, though I can't be sure.

MS or other illness related disabilities may lead employers to wrongly conclude someone's not going to be able to continue to work (though how many people stay in the same job 30 years or even 10?). Of course asking questions in a job interview is illegal, but that also doesn't give potential employees a chance to overcome people's prejudices; I imagine a lot of employers may just see dollar signs when they see someone in a wheelchair. I do hear from others that illegal questions are regularly asked in interviews though.

And even when the job is there, administration can be mean and hostile enough to intentionally make people miserable or make them more ill from stress. :|

My husband's had a manager who acquired paraplegia in a skiing accident--she was already in the job, a situation which as you point out gave her some security. And one of his co-workers apparently has high-level quadriplegia. But this is the exception among thousands of employees and among other similar companies in the area.

Stephen Hawking--there aren't too many theoretical physicists, but when someone gets such a job as an anomaly, everyone says, he could do it, why can't everyone else? I do agree with you that many people are underhired (or not hired)comensurate with their level of education.

About Ms. Wheelchair--one of them had her title taken away because she sometimes stood up. Interesting since the figures indicate some people can stand or walk for a short time. There's a lot of controversy/disagreeement about what qualifies people as disabled.

FridaWrites said...

PS, good to see you feeling well enough to come visiting. :O)

Elizabeth McClung said...

Thanks, it is good that I am can sit up and not pass out long enough to get out of my cyber cell (those blogs really do take me 6-10 hours, I know that is hard to fathom but with limited hand function and taking photos and resizing, and editing, it just does).

Okay, back on topic. When I was in the UK at EVERY interview I was asked how often I got sick in a year, and I smiled and said that I refused to answer that and they might want to review the EU policies on health discrimination. In fact one time I left a whole page blank (it was a health history of me AND my family - should they hire me or will I be off for breast cancer?) - I don't think anyone bothers to regulate these practices (like going around doing an interview and then fining the person.

I had read about the woman and it wasn't that she stood up, she told them she stood up in her math class, it was that the CONTRACT was to not stand up in PUBLIC while MS. Wheelchair USA - so she was to PRETEND she couldn't stand up. Or only stand up at home. She didn't and was fired. One of the more famous Canadian para's is a female broadcaster who at resturants, slides from the bar stool, uses the weight bearing leg to 'walk' in a smooth glide, to her wheelchair. And my how the perceptions change. The whole emphasis isn't on 'what is being diabled about' but rather that society has a view of disability (for example: people in wheelchairs are paralyzed), and that thus they can't move thier legs - completely unlike people with CP who had leg spasticity (as can Para's and Quads as muscles die.

Sorry it is a pet peeve of mine because so much PT is based on the idea that one must either WALK and be a success or not and be in a wheelchair, not walk a few steps in the morning or pull yourself using a grab bar to be helped to change if you can knee lock as it is so much easier. If you got it, use it. My only complaint against a scooter user who rode to the library and then parked on the aisle she wanted, got out and walked down is she cross parked so no one else in a wheelchair could get by. While everyone else was giving her the dirty looks, that she is 'pretending' or 'faking' - no, she's being smart.

I've never understood why we think someone who runs three miles somewhere and back to get a litre of milk when they wanted to do it with the least pain and hassle just didn't take the bus. But when it comes to OUR wheels like scooters or wheelchairs there is clearly an emotional social investment in creating a clearly understandable stereotype. WHY?

Why does society need to understand only one wheelchair user. They can understand Race, right? Black, Irish, Swedish, Latino, Russian, Polish - I have friends who have societies of all these and who do activities - the Ukranian center hosts dances for lebians all the time. But society can't get the different between Para, MS, MD, Spina Bifida, CP, or degenerative conditions, like RA? Or don't want to.

There can NEVER be true accomadation if people don't ever understand that basics that conditions people have are different. In the same way some people still think all gay men are drag queens (and how useful is that?), we are all lumped into one. No real understanding, no real accomodation. Which is odd because when you do get someone like me (or you), and you find someone who gets that you are not a 'classic case' then they say, "Well you know, ask the Parapalygic society what urinologist they go to?" or "Ask to be refered to the Spina Bifida clinic for your internal medicine."

Anything that involves the spine as well as internal AND joint degeneration means you are going to have to be borrowing from RA, from SCI, from whereever. Unless I am so thick that I missed when you got your doctor who is on top of everything (did that happen?)?

The Goldfish said...

I think the gender thing may be down to disease as opposed to regular differences in upper-body strength. More common conditions that effect the upper-body such as ME, MS and arthritis are just incidentally more common in women.

I agree with Elizabeth, the black/white way that wheelchair use is seen is both totally unrepresentative (really, all but one of the many wheelchair users I know have at least a few steps) and a big barrier to equality. But I guess it's this Charity Model crap again; in order to be deserving, our stories must be as simple as possible. Complication is always treated with suspicion by people who want to pigeon-hole us.

FridaWrites said...

Great comments, gals. Will be back later.