Blindness Statistics

There are several ways to define blindness. Many people regard blindness as the inability to see at all or, at best, to discern light from darkness. We encourage people to consider themselves as blind if their sight is bad enough—even with corrective lenses—that they must use alternative methods to engage in any activity that people with normal vision would do using their eyes.

The United States Bureau of the Census question about "significant vision loss" encompasses both total or near-total blindness and "trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses."

The statutory definition of "legally blind" is that central visual acuity must be 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best possible correction or that the visual field must be twenty degrees or less.

There are no generally accepted definitions for "visually impaired," "low vision," or "vision loss."

Almost all statistics on blindness are estimated, which means that the numbers found in a sample are extrapolated to the entire population. United States government agencies—including the Bureau of the Census, the National Center for Health Statistics, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics—use sophisticated statistical techniques that lead to population estimates with great accuracy. Moreover, these techniques also provide the margin of error.

Blindness among Children

American Printing House for the Blind (2017)

Each year, the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) polls each state for data on the number of legally blind children (through age twenty-one) enrolled in elementary and high school in the US eligible to receive free reading matter in Braille, large print, or audio format. This is used to develop a "quota" of federal funds to be spent in each state for material in each alternative format.

Please note that the numbers quoted below from the APH Annual Report do not meet the standard definition of statistics. However, they do provide useful data that is worth including on this page. According to the APH,

"The specific purpose of the annual Federal Quota Census is to register students in the United States and Outlying Areas who meet the definition of blindness and are therefore eligible for adapted educational materials from APH through the Act to Promote the Education of the Blind.

Statements regarding student literacy, use of appropriate learning media, and students taught in a specific medium cannot be supported using APH registration data" (APH News: December 2017).

  • Total number of students: 63,357
  • By reporting agency:
    • Reported by state departments of education: 53,155 (83.9%)
    • Reported by residential schools for the blind: 4,940 (7.8%)
    • Reported by rehabilitation programs: 3,800 (6.0%)
    • Reported by multiple disability programs: 1,462 (2.3%)
  • By primary reading medium:
    • Braille readers: 4,963 (7.8%)
    • Print readers: 20,460 (32.3%)
    • Auditory readers: 6,833 (10.8%)
    • Non-readers/Symbolic Readers: 20,718 (32.7%)
    • Pre-readers: 10,383 (16.4%)
American Printing House for the Blind, "Annual Report 2017: Distribution of Eligible Students Based on the Federal Quota Census of January 4, 2016 (Fiscal Year 2016)." Retrieved from http://www.aph.org/federal-quota/distribution-of-students-2017/.

Disability Statistics, American Community Survey (2016)

The number of non-institutionalized males or females, ages four and under through twenty, all races, regardless of ethnicity, with all education levels in the United States who reported a visual disability in 2016.

Prevalence:

  • Total: 706,400 (0.8%)
    • Girls: 337,700 (0.79%)
    • Boys: 368,700 (0.83%)
Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. (2017). Disability Statistics from the American Community Survey (ACS). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Yang-Tan Institute (YTI). Retrieved from Cornell University Disability Statistics website: www.disabilitystatistics.org.

Blindness among Adults

These estimates (for adults age sixteen and older reporting significant vision loss, who were in the non-institutionalized, civilian population) are all derived from the American Community Survey results for 2016, as interpreted by Cornell University's Employment and Disability Institute (EDI), unless otherwise credited.

Prevalence of Visual Disability (2016)

The number of non-institutionalized, male or female, ages sixteen through seventy-five +, all races, regardless of ethnicity, with all education levels in the United States reported to have a visual disability in 2016.

  • Total (all ages): 7,675,600 (2.4%)
    • Total (16 to 75+): 7,208,700 (2.83%)
      • Women: 3,946,300 (3.01%)
      • Men: 3,262,300 (2.65%)
    • Age 16 to 64: 4,037,600 (2.0%)
    • Age 65 and older: 3,171,100 (6.6%)
Race or Ethnicity (2016)

The number of non-institutionalized, male or female, all ages, with all education levels in the United States reported to have a visual disability in 2016.

  • White: 5,546,000 (2.4%)
  • Black/African American: 1,215,600 (3.0%)
  • Hispanic: 1,253,400 (2.2%)
  • Asian: 250,500 (1.4%)
  • American Indian or Alaska Native: 100,400 (3.8%)
  • Some other race(s): 563,100 (2.1%)
State Distribution (2016)

The number of non-institutionalized, male or female, all ages, all races, regardless of ethnicity, with all education levels in the United States reported to have a visual disability in 2016.

State Number Alabama 150,600 Alaska 17,600 Arizona 175,600 Arkansas 97,900 California 797,300 Colorado 107,700 Connecticut 61,200 Delaware 19,200 District of Columbia 16,400 Florida 544,700 Georgia 267,100 Hawaii 24,500 Idaho 43,500 Illinois 258,900 Indiana 159,800 Iowa 60,700 Kansas 67,900 Kentucky 152,000 Louisiana 155,900 Maine 30,800 Maryland 111,500 Massachusetts 129,800 Michigan 223,500 Minnesota 86,500 Mississippi 96,400 Missouri 153,900 Montana 21,800 Nebraska 39,700 Nevada 101,500 New Hampshire 28,600 New Jersey 163,700 New Mexico 65,200 New York 418,500 North Carolina 285,500 North Dakota 14,400 Ohio 280,100 Oklahoma 138,100 Oregon 104,500 Pennsylvania 298,500 Puerto Rico 218,400 Rhode Island 22,100 South Carolina 153,300 South Dakota 16,600 Tennessee 205,400 Texas 702,500 Utah 55,000 Vermont 14,100 Virginia 178,400 Washington 161,900 West Virginia 71,400 Wisconsin 110,300 Wyoming 14,500 Educational Attainment (2016)

The number of non-institutionalized, male or female, ages twenty-one to sixty-four, all races, regardless of ethnicity, in the United States reported to have a visual disability in 2016. These numbers refer to the highest level of education attained by a given individual.

  • Less than high school graduation: 847,000 (22.3%)
  • High school diploma or a GED: 1,201,600 (31.6%)
  • Some college education/associates degree: 1,151,500 (30.3%)
  • Bachelor's degree or higher: 598,000 (15.7%)
Income and Poverty Status (2016)

The annual earnings and poverty status of non-institutionalized persons aged twenty-one to sixty-four years with a visual disability in the United States in 2016.

  • Median Annual Earnings: $38,500
  • Median Annual Household Income: $41,300
  • Number living below the poverty line: 1,048,600 (27.7%)
Supplemental Security Income (2016)

The number of non-institutionalized persons aged twenty-one to sixty-four years with a visual disability in the United States who received SSI benefits in 2016 was 649,900 (17.1%).

Health Insurance Status (2016)

The number of non-institutionalized persons aged twenty-one to sixty-four years with a visual disability in the United States in 2016.

  • Uninsured: 471,900 (12.4%)
  • Insured: 3,326,300 (87.6%)
    • Employer/Union: 1,351,100 (35.6%)
    • Purchased: 449,500 (11.8%)
    • Medicare: 801,400 (21.1%)
    • Medicaid: 1,486,200 (39.1%)
    • Military/VA: 208,800 (5.5%)
    • Indian Health Service: 38,700 (1.0%)
Employment (US) (2016)

The number of non-institutionalized persons aged twenty-one to sixty-four years with a visual disability in the United States who were employed full-time/full-year in 2016 was 1,120,700 or 29.5%.

Therefore, for working age adults reporting significant vision loss, over 70% are not employed full-time.

Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. (2017). Disability Statistics from the American Community Survey (ACS). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Yang-Tan Institute (YTI). Retrieved from Cornell University Disability Statistics website: www.disabilitystatistics.org.

Mobility

There are very few reliable current statistics on the use of canes or dog guides in the United States. However, according to Perkins School for the Blind, "Most people who are visually impaired don't use a white cane. In fact, only an estimated 2 percent to 8 percent do. The rest rely on their useable vision, a guide dog or a sighted guide."

Perkins School for the Blind. (2015, October 15). "10 Fascinating Facts about the White Cane." Accessed on January 14, 2019, from https://www.perkins.org/stories/10-fascinating-facts-about-the-white-cane.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind estimates that "there are approximately 10,000 guide dog teams currently working in the United States. Another frequently cited statistic is that only about 2% of all people who are blind and visually impaired work with guide dogs."

Guiding Eyes for the Blind. (2019). "FAQs." Accessed January 14, 2019, from https://www.guidingeyes.org/about/faqs/.

Computer Use

For data on the preferences of screen reader software users, please see the report on the results of the October 2017 survey from WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind), Screen Reader User Survey #7 Results. WebAIM is a nonprofit organization based at the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University.

For data on the use of computer and internet technologies by "users with low vision", please see the report on the results of the September 2018 survey from WebAIM, Survey of Users with Low Vision #2 Results.

Additional Resources