form, allowing for the flexible gathering of additional information of interest to researchers, along with the disability data.
Although the definition of disability is context dependent, in recent years the concept has shifted from a focus on physical condition, disease, and impairment to more emphasis on functional limitations caused by these factors. This involves measuring limitations and outcomes separately to understand how disparities in outcomes may be eliminated. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics assesses disability independently and then reports employment outcomes.
The work underlying the development of the conceptual framework for measuring disability that OMB now supports for most federal surveys was initiated in the context of the American Community Survey (ACS). The Census Bureau assembled an interagency group, which included, among others, researchers from the Veterans Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Education, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, as well as various agencies in the Department of Health and Human Services. The group reviewed the legislative mandates and needs for disability data in the context of various programs and evaluated the restrictions imposed by the format of the existing questions on the ACS. The primary measurement objective identified by the group was what Schwab called “equalization of opportunity;” in other words, a measure that could identify persons who are at risk of discrimination or who lack adequate opportunities for participation in social life as a result of their limitations in functioning. Another goal was to measure severe disability in order to identify persons who need assistance to maintain independence.
Box 7-1 shows the new disability measures used in the ACS. The questions cover limitations in vision, hearing, mobility, cognitive functioning, and self-care. Those over 15 years of age are also asked about their ability to interact with their environment, including their ability to do errands alone.
The measures developed for the ACS are now used on a variety of government surveys, including the Current Population Survey (CPS), the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), and the American Housing Survey (AHS).
A key characteristic of the measures is the modular platform that allows various agencies to combine the items with additional questions of particular interest to their work. For example, transportation researchers can add questions about mobility, and surveys focused on employment can add questions about accommodations in the workplace. Using the same set of key measures across a variety of studies will allow researchers to examine different dimensions of disability, and they are just beginning to reap the benefits.
Schwab said that OMB endorses wider use of the measures because they are the result of a thorough review of the existing literature and extensive test-