Have you ever thought about what makes a community safe for people with disabilities? While accessibility features such as wheelchair ramps and audio-tactile traffic signals remain an important component, there are other crucial factors that aren’t quite so tangible, too. For example, it doesn’t do much to have accessible sidewalks if grocery stores, health care services and entertainment centers are too far out of reach without a car. Pedestrian-friendly locations tend to also be more disability-friendly.
Crime indices, poverty rates, median income and the percentage of people with disabilities who have no insurance coverage represent other factors that can — with careful interpretation — also provide a glimpse into a state’s overall safety for people with disabilities. For example, people with disabilities are especially vulnerable to issues with poverty because they tend to be offered fewer employment and education opportunities. In fact, a 2015 study found that people with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty as those without disabilities. They’re more likely to be unemployed as well.
Even when a state offers “safety net” programs, other accessibility barriers may prevent people with disabilities from signing up or obtaining and understanding pertinent information. Applying for subsidized insurance coverage or supplemental income on the basis of disability, for example, often requires numerous doctor visits and stacks of paperwork, which can prove difficult for some people with disabilities to navigate without help. Even website design has an impact on whether or not people with certain disabilities can navigate the page and click links.
Safe states for people with disabilities have infrastructure in place to improve accessibility, both physically and in terms of government benefits. They also have low crime indices, which indicate that people with disabilities are less likely to be victimized in these areas. How does your state stack up?
Maryland earns the top spot on our list of safe states for people with disabilities thanks to a low poverty rate and a low percentage of uninsured people with disabilities. Maryland also boasts relatively low crime indices across the board. It’s a good thing Maryland seems to be a safe place for people with disabilities, because it has the second-highest estimated number of such in the nation. People living in Maryland also earn the highest median annual income in the U.S., on average.
2. New Jersey
Total Score: 80.7
New Jersey is the most densely populated state, so it may be no surprise that it has the highest walkability score in the U.S., too. However, that’s not the only reason why New Jersey clinches the No. 2 spot in our list of safe states for people with disabilities. The majority of people with disabilities have insurance in New Jersey, and the state also has some of the lowest rates of poverty and drug crime in the nation. A comparatively high number of hate and property crimes, however, pull New Jersey into second place instead of first. Notably, residents of New Jersey also earn the second-highest median annual income.
3. New Hampshire
Total Score: 80.5
New Hampshire has the lowest poverty rate in the U.S., which helps propel it toward the top of our list. Property crime is also relatively low in this state, but the drug crime index is among the highest on our list of 15 safe states for people with disabilities.
Total Score: 79.1
Connecticut boasts the second-lowest percentage of uninsured people with disabilities on our list. It’s also one of the few states with a poverty rate below 8%. In terms of crime, Connecticut has neither the best nor the worst stats in any category. Connecticut’s walkability score might appear low, but only a dozen states score higher.
5. Rhode Island
Total Score: 78.1
Rhode Island has the second-highest walkability score in the nation, which makes sense given its small size. The poverty rate and crime index in Rhode Island are relatively low but still show room for improvement compared to other states. Data regarding the percentage of uninsured people with disabilities was not available for Rhode Island.
Total Score: 77.7
Although Iowa does not have the highest poverty rate in the nation (which is 50% in Mississippi), it does have one of the highest rates among the states that made it on our list. Its walkability score, total crime index and percentage of uninsured people with disabilities help pull it further up the rankings to a respectable 6th place. Notably, Iowa also has one of the lowest estimated populations of people with disabilities out of all 50 states. Only Idaho and Montana have fewer.
Total Score: 75.8
Crime in general doesn’t occur often in Hawaii, but most incidents are related to drug crimes or property crimes. Still, it has one of the lowest total crime indices in the nation. However, Hawaii is home to the highest estimated number of people with disabilities and shows room for improvement regarding poverty and walkability. Information about the percentage of people with disabilities with insurance coverage was not available for Hawaii.
Total Score: 74.3
Alaska scores very low on the walkability scale, which makes sense given that only 20% of this state is accessible by road, let alone by foot. However, Alaska also has a low crime index and below-average rates of poverty and uninsured people with disabilities, which helps to push it further up our list.
Total Score: 72.5
Wyoming is one of the few states in the U.S. with more than 30% of uninsured people with disabilities. A low crime index helps propel Wyoming further up our list compared to other states. The poverty rate in Wyoming is also below average. Notably, Wyoming does not have the smallest estimated number of people with disabilities despite being the least populated state.
Total Score: 72
Minnesota has the highest drug crime index of all the states to make it on our list, but it is by no means the highest drug crime index in the nation. (To put Minnesota’s drug crime index into perspective, the highest nationwide score was 677 in Texas.) Minnesota also has the second-worst walking score of the 15 states on our list. Balancing out these statistics is Minnesota’s low poverty rate, which ties with Maryland for the second-lowest poverty rate in the U.S. and helps Minnesota earn a spot on our list of safe states for people with disabilities.
Total Score: 71.3
Maine features one of the nation’s highest percentages of uninsured people with disabilities. Of the states with this data available, only seven rank worse than Maine in this regard. Property crime in Maine is also relatively high compared to the other top contenders on our list of safe states for people with disabilities.
Total Score: 70.8
A relatively high walkability score helps push Delaware onto our list of safe states for people with disabilities, but relatively high incidents of violent crime combined with a poverty rate that is neither terrible nor brag-worthy pull Delaware back down to 12th place overall. Delaware has not published data about the percentage of residents with disabilities who do not have insurance.
Total Score: 68.9
The percentage of uninsured people with disabilities is quite low in Colorado and the poverty rate is notably low as well. However, hate crimes, property crimes and drug crimes occur too often for Colorado to claim a higher position on our list.
Total Score: 68.5
Drug and hate crimes represent a concern in Vermont, but property crime is relatively rare. The state has a good walking score — one of the highest in the nation — but its poverty rate could be lower. Data about Vermont’s percentage of uninsured people with disabilities was not available.
Total Score: 66
Utah’s poverty rate is below 8%, and only a handful of other states can say the same. However, Utah’s impressive stats are balanced out by its violent crime score, which is the highest of any of our top 15 safe states for people with disabilities.
People with disabilities benefit from having insurance coverage, living in low-crime areas and being able to safely and conveniently access goods and services without the use of a vehicle. When all of these factors are looked at together, Maryland shines as the clear winner.
However, a broad range of disabilities exist, so we have taken a bird’s eye view of the situation. Improving state safety for people with disabilities also involves more subjective data, such as the availability and quality of educational resources or social support programs. If you are interested in exploring this subject further, consider our list a valuable starting point.
State crime data was gathered from the FBI’s 2019 report. Census data was used to obtain poverty rate data and the percentage of uninsured people with disabilities in each state. Walking scores were sourced from Walkscore.com. These data combined to form each state’s total score.
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