The recent proposal of the Census Bureau to revamp disability data collection methods in its American Community Survey (ACS) has ignited concerns among disability experts. These changes could lead to the undercounting of the disabled population in the U.S., affecting funding and research.

Census Bureau: Proposed revision

The proposed revisions involve shifting from the current ACS-6 disability questions to the Washington Group Short Set (WG-SS), introducing a new disability definition, and adding a communication-related question starting in 2025.

The idea to transition from ACS-6 to WG-SS and include a communication question was initially proposed in 2018 by the National Center on Health Statistics (NCHS).

Scarce high-quality data 

According to NCHS statistician Julie D. Weeks, the changes aim to address the scarcity of high-quality disability data in the U.S. and globally, emphasizing the need to collect information on disability severity.

The ACS-6 involves respondents answering yes or no to six different functions, while the WG-SS employs a graded response scale, providing more detailed information about the severity of functional difficulties.


Disability advocates and researchers express apprehension about the potential ramifications of future disability research, policymaking, and funding allocation.

Critics argue that these may exclude certain disabled individuals, citing examples such as questions about hearing difficulties, impacting those with hearing aids. They emphasize that the language used in the questions may not account for the nuanced experiences of individuals with conditions like long-term COVID-19.

Census Bureau contention

The Census Bureau contends that the changes are a result of the 2022 test outcomes, emphasizing the focus on measuring functional disability rather than disability identity.

However, disability experts worry that official census statistics may prioritize overall numbers over nuanced data points when shaping policies.

The disability community advocates against these alterations. The fate of the proposed revisions remains uncertain as stakeholders await the decision of the Census Bureau.

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