[Irl-dean] Disability Statistics

Paul Walsh, Segala paul at segala.com
Thu Oct 12 14:38:30 IST 2006

As Homer Simpson once said "40% of all statistics say what researchers want
them to say"

-----Original Message-----
From: irl-dean-admin at list.eeng.dcu.ie
[mailto:irl-dean-admin at list.eeng.dcu.ie] On Behalf Of Mark Magennis
Sent: 11 October 2006 12:26
To: irl-dean at list.eeng.dcu.ie
Subject: [Irl-dean] Disability Statistics

On 10 Oct 2006, at 14:19, Claude Saulnier wrote:

> Where can I can statistics with % of disabilities. Where I am  
> coming from is to explain to business managers and business owners  
> is that they would be foolish to ignore the issue.

Hi Claude,

Disability is hard to define. For example, is dyslexia a disability?  
And how many people are dyslexic? Published figures range between 1%  
and 8% of total population - a huge variation! It depends on who's  
counting and what their criteria are. Other disabilities are often no  
easier to define and count. At NCBI we know that the number of  
legally registered blind people is only some fraction of the number  
of people with serious functional vision impairments. A lot of people  
are vision impaired but don't fall under a legal definition and a lot  
of people do not register, for a whole host of reasons. The  
disparities between the various definitions of disability and what  
this means functionally in a particular domain are another problem.  
For example, out of the whole disabled population, a good percentage  
have disabilities that do not impinge on their use of the web in any  
way. On the other hand, their disabilities may affect their web use  
indirectly (e.g. a wheelchair user who can't sit close enough to the  
monitor in the Internet cafe to read the screen). So to say x% of  
people have a vision impairment doesn't mean that x% of people have  
an impairment that affects them using a PC. I recently met a guy who  
uses a guide dog ('blind dog' - he's American) because he has tunnel  
vision. But he has no trouble reading even the smallest letters on a  
standard eye chart!

As for using disability stats to support a business case, the  
argument based on how many potential customers have disabilities is a  
difficult one to make. I heard someone say in a talk once that about  
20% of people have some disability or other and no business can  
afford to exclude 20% of its customers. Then someone in the audience  
said "yes we can". And it's true, to a greater or lesser extent  
depending on the business. Although the Dept of Welfare and Pensions  
can't afford to exclude 20% of its audience, a consumer electronics  
provider might think that they can and do. They might rightly argue  
that disability is not a significant issue for the demographic they  
are targeting. To persuade them otherwise might be very difficult,  
particularly because if a business is making serious business  
decisions on the basis of market statistics and projected return on  
investment, they will only base these on serious statistics and they  
would probably conclude that any disability numbers we can give them  
are too unreliable and inappropriate to be used in such calculations.

So I think that disability statistics are problematic, although I do  
think they can be used to illustrate some basic points:

- that there are probably more people than you think who have some  
functional impairment (for instance very few people realise that  
around 25% of adults in Ireland, France, the US and many other  
developed countries, are 'functionally illiterate').

- that everyone has one or more impairments if they live long enough  
and that functional diversity is absolutely normal.

I see disability statistics as indicative of a more general issue.  
It's the tip of an iceberg which contains a huge diversity of  
functional abilities across any population. I think that's a more  
compelling argument to make.

Having said that, I'll privately email you a document I have that  
might have some useful info for you (presumably attachments are not  
allowed on the list). I put it together a few years ago. It gives  
statistics on many different types of disability in Ireland and  
Internationally and at least cites some sources.

All the best,


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