People with Disabilities and the 2020 Census

The U.S. Census Bureau has identified people with disabilities as a hard-to-count population, which means they are at a greater risk of being undercounted in the 2020 census. It is critically important for people with disabilities to be fully and accurately counted in order to better ensure their voices are heard by elected officials at all levels of government, federal, state, and local. The number of members of Congress and even state and local legislators are determined by the number of all residents in a geographic area. In addition, the amount of money many federally funded programs receive depends on a full census count.

Key programs important to people with disabilities include the Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities program, Statewide Independent Living Councils, State Councils on Developmental Disabilities, Education Grants to States for Students with Disabilities, and the Vocational Rehabilitation State Grants Program. Unfortunately, the 2020 census will not have questions directly related to disabilities, but disability-related questions are asked in the American Community Survey (ACS), a more detailed survey which is sent only to a small sample of the population every month every year.

Most households will be asked to respond to the 2020 census online, using a desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or smart phone. Every household may also choose to respond by phone or by mail. According to a Census Bureau fact sheet, people with disabilities will be able to respond to the 2020 census in a variety of accessible ways. For example:

  • The online questionnaire will be accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities. According to “An Accessible 2020 Census” from The Economic Security and Opportunity Initiative and the 2020 Census at Georgetown Law School’s Center on Poverty and Inequality, the Census Bureau states people should be able to navigate online without a mouse and use assisted-living technology such as a screen reader. In addition, a video guide in American Sign Language with closed or open captioning will be available.
  • According to Census Counts, a collaborative campaign coordinated by Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, people with disabilities are about 20 percentage points less likely to own a computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone, or to subscribe to home broadband. Therefore, some people with disabilities will want to respond by phone. Census Questionnaire Assistance phone lines will be available in English and 12 additional languages. People can also complete the census in English via a phone line that uses Telephone Device for the Deaf (TDD/TTY) technology. People can also request a visit from a census taker who uses American Sign Language.
  • For people who prefer to respond by mail, those who are blind or who have low vision can print a guide in braille or in a large-print format from the Census Bureau’s “Language Guide” webpage (scroll to the bottom after all of the languages).

People living in group situations, such as group homes and residential treatment centers, will be counted by a separate Census Bureau operation called the Group Quarters (GQ) enumeration. Census staff will work with administrators of such group facilities to set a date, time, and preferred method of counting people.

To help ensure a more accurate count of people with disabilities, advocates and service providers should consider directly engaging with such individuals to share the importance of an accurate census and encourage their participation. In particular, trusted community members can play an important role in reassuring people with disabilities, including those who are undocumented or who distrust or fear government employees. Tell people with disabilities to look out for census materials starting March 12, reinforce the importance of being counted, and help them get the support they need to respond. Service providers can reach out to clients. For example, service providers at Independent Living Centers, Protection and Advocacy Systems, and parent associations can play a vital role as trusted partners to conduct effective outreach.

The Economic Security and Opportunity Initiative and the 2020 Census at Georgetown Law School’s Center on Poverty and Inequality has many resources about the 2020 census and various hard-to-count populations at: Scroll down to the third item to find “An Accessible 2020 Census.”    

The Leadership Conference also has a special Census Counts webpage with fact sheets, webinars, and other materials about the 2020 census, including a fact sheet “Why the Census Matters for People with Disabilities.”

The U.S. Census Bureau website has many resources, including an Outreach Materials page with an extensive trove of outreach resources, including fact sheets and posters. For example, there is a fact sheet “Accessibility of the 2020 Census” at:

The Arc has a fact sheet “You Count. Be Counted” at: as well as a video at:

The National Disability Rights Network and Census Counts have a fact sheet, “An Accessible Get Out the Count (GOTC) Plan,” at:

See previous Memo articles about the 2020 census, one about people experiencing homeless and the census and one a more general discussion about the 2020 census.