Taubman Cener for Public Policy

Rhode Island Disability Numbers Are the Highest in New England

Rhode Island ranks 16th nationally in the percentage of civilians classified as disabled, according to an analysis of U.S. census figures by researchers at Brown University. Disability rates vary widely within the state, from 12.7 percent in Narragansett to 30 percent in Central Falls.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Researchers at Brown University conducting a detailed study of recently released U.S. Census data have found that the number of citizens classified as disabled within the Ocean State are the highest in New England and above the national average.

Darrell M. West, director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy, and Jack Combs, the Center's research administrator, examined U.S. Bureau of the Census 2000 figures on disability and compared the Rhode Island numbers to the region and country.

The Rhode Island numbers show that 20.2 percent of individuals within the state are classified as having some type of disability, compared to 18.3 percent in New England and 19.3 percent nationally. Disability numbers for other states in New England include Maine (20 percent), Massachusetts (18.5 percent), Connecticut (17.5 percent), Vermont (17.1 percent), and New Hampshire (16.9 percent).

Nationally, Rhode Island ranks 16th in percentage of civilians 5 years or older who are disabled. West Virginia tops the list at 24.4 percent, while Alaska and Utah (each of whom have 14.9 percent disabled) have the lowest rates of disability among the states.

The designation of "disabled" by the U.S. Census refers to long-lasting physical, mental, or emotional condition that makes it difficult for a person to undertake activities such as walking, climbing stairs, dressing, bathing, learning, or remembering. The Census recognizes six different types of disability: sensory ( blindness, deafness, or other type of vision or hearing impairment), physical (conditions that limit physical movement), mental (learning, remembering, or concentrating problems), self-care difficulties, problems going outside the home, and problems leading to employment difficulties.

In Rhode Island, 11.4 percent of the population five years or older report having one type of disability, while 8.8 percent say they have two or more disabilities. The most common types of disability include employment disabilities and physical disabilities.

Disability rates within the state vary considerably among Rhode Island's 39 cities and towns. Whereas 30 percent of people in Central Falls say they are disabled, only 12.7 percent in Narragansett say they are. Other cities with high rates of disability include Block Island (27.7 percent), Woonsocket (26.3 percent), Pawtucket (25.9 percent). Central Falls also has the highest rate of disability for those 65 years or older. A total of 56.8 percent of people in that community report some type of disability.

A full report of the analysis of the disabled population in Rhode Island is available online at www.InsidePolitics.org. It shows breakdowns for each city and town within Rhode Island as well as regional and national comparisons. For more information on the study, contact Darrell M. West at (401) 863-1163.