Rural areas dominate the American landscape by as much as 72%-97% of total landmass. While fewer Americans live in rural areas (approximately 15-19%) than urban areas, they make up a larger share of Americans who are unemployed, elderly, live in poverty and who have a disability. Living in rural America can place people with disabilities at a disadvantage. For example, rural residents may encounter serious barriers to accessing services such as healthcare which are typically much sparser and more expensive than in urban areas. Ideally, community services, programs, and policies use up-to-date information to determine what is needed and for whom. However, between 2000-2013 no new information about people with disabilities in rural areas was available. This knowledge gap has negatively impacted our ability to understand or track changes in the needs of people with disabilities living in rural communities.
There is an urgent need to update current knowledge about people with disabilities living in rural America. We used 2010-2014 data from the American Community Survey (ACS) to determine the distribution and demographics of people with disabilities living in rural areas. While data from the ACS puts the national disability rate at 12.4%, disability is more common in the most rural counties (17.7%) compared to the most urban (11.7%). It is true that rates of disability in rural areas may be higher due to an older population, however, rates of disability are higher in rural areas across all ages and impairment types. Clearly, rural matters. Disability is a rural issue and one that should not be ignored. Look for more information about the geography of rural disability as we explore more data from the ACS coming soon!