Intellectual Disability by the Numbers

Sometimes I am asked a simple question: “How many people have an intellectual disability?”

Turns out that the question is not so simple. Census results vary dramatically and there is broad consensus that there is a “hidden” population of people with intellectual disabilities. But we have estimates.

Let’s start with disability in general. The World Health Organization estimates that 10% of the world’s population, about 650 million people, live with some type of disability. That is the world’s largest minority. (Most everyone – you and I included – will experience disability in our lifetime.)

But what about intellectual disability? Approximately 6.5 million people in the United States have an intellectual disability. Approximately 1-3 percent of the world population has an intellectual disability — as many as 200 million people.

In the United States the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities says that nearly 30 million families in the United States are directly connected to a person with an intellectual disability.

Intellectual disability knows no boundaries. It touches the lives of people of all racial, ethnic, social, and economic backgrounds.

People with intellectual disabilities are brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and aunts and uncles. Everyone with an intellectual disability is fellow citizen.

Many people with an intellectual disability lead full, rewarding, and contributing lives. But many more find themselves pushed to the margins of our society. Almost all encounter prejudice, bullying, insensitive treatment, discrimination or abuse at some time in their lives.

Everything L’Arche does arises from the deep conviction that every life is precious, an unrepeatable grace, and that everyone has an inherent and immeasurable worth and dignity.

It’s up to us to remove the obstacles that prevent human dignity from flourishing.

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“L’Arche, Life, & Love” is written to help build the extended community of people that share L’Arche values.