Advocates Criticize Lack of Consultation and Potential Undercounting of People with Disabilities
The U.S. Census Bureau is facing criticism from disability advocates over proposed changes to how it asks people about disabilities. These changes, which would redefine how disabilities are defined by the federal government, have raised concerns about potential undercounting and the allocation of vital resources for individuals with disabilities.
Stakeholders Worry About Reduced Resources and Accuracy
Advocates argue that the proposed changes would artificially reduce the number of individuals with disabilities by almost half. This reduction could have serious consequences, as it would impact the allocation of resources for housing, schools, and program benefits. Additionally, accurate representation of people with disabilities is at stake, experts warn.
Timing of the Change Sparks Controversy
Critics also question the timing of the proposed change, as it coincides with an increase in the number of individuals living with long-term conditions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. This timing has raised concerns about the potential impact on counting people with disabilities accurately in light of the evolving health landscape.
Census Bureau Defends the Proposed Change
Census Bureau officials argue that the proposed change would align the U.S. with international standards, allowing for cross-country comparisons. They also assert that the new questions would better capture the complexities of disabilities, acknowledging that they do not neatly fit into binary categories. The bureau has made efforts to improve the counting of historically underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities; however, critics argue that it seems willing to compromise the counting of people with disabilities.
Consequences of the Proposed Change
If approved, the changes to the American Community Survey (ACS) questions would be implemented in 2025. The ACS is a comprehensive survey that covers various aspects of American life, including disabilities. The proposed changes would introduce four response options for most questions, allowing individuals to indicate their level of difficulty. However, the most significant change revolves around the threshold for determining disability. The international standards being considered would significantly reduce the percentage of individuals classified as having a disability.
Advocates Voice Concerns
Disability advocates worry that the proposed change would exclude individuals who experience difficulties on certain days but can function on a daily basis. They argue that the current questions are not inclusive enough and may miss many individuals within their community. The lack of input from advocates during the formulation of international standards has further fueled their objections.
Debate Over Terminology and Identity
The proposed change comes at a time when the terminology surrounding disabilities is evolving. The shift is moving away from labels that imply inferiority and towards more sensitive language that describes specific conditions or circumstances. Disability is now seen as an identity and a social movement, rather than merely a function-based definition. Critics argue that the proposed change fails to account for this shift and the emergence of new types of disabilities, such as long COVID.
Final Decision Pending Further Consultation
The Census Bureau’s National Advisory Committee has recommended that the statistical agency delay the adoption of the proposed change until further consultation with disability advocates and researchers. While the change may benefit scientific research, some experts argue that the questions, if approved, will prioritize the needs of agencies over those of people with disabilities.
In conclusion, the proposed changes to disability questions by the U.S. Census Bureau have sparked controversy and backlash from advocates who believe they would lead to an undercounting of individuals with disabilities. The timing of the change and the lack of consultation with stakeholders have further fueled objections. The final decision on the proposed changes is pending, and further discussions between the Census Bureau and disability advocates are expected.