An Accessible 2020 Census

April 24, 2019
An Accessible 2020 Census


The 2020 Census will serve as America’s 24th decennial census. The census aims to count every person living in the United States, regardless of citizenship status. The population data collected will be used to allocate the seats in the United States House of Representatives along with drawing the appropriate boundaries for congressional districts, state legislative districts, school districts, and voting precincts across the country. Next year’s census data will also be used to determine how more than $675 billion in federal government resources will be distributed over the next 10 years.

With less than a year to go to Census Day 2020 (April 1, 2020), the Census Bureau, civil rights groups, and state and local governments across the country are advocating for a fair and accurate count to ensure that every person in America is included. As census outreach efforts continue in the year ahead, it is important to include everyone in the process, including people with disabilities.

In 2015, there were nearly 40 million people with disabilities in the United States representing 12.6% of the civilian non-institutionalized population, and although the short-form 2020 census questionnaire will not ask about disability specifically, it is important to remember that people with disabilities, just like everyone else, will self-respond to the census. As such, it is critically important for an accurate population count to consider accessibility with advocacy efforts and census work in the year ahead.

The Census Bureau has indicated that next year’s questionnaire will be fully accessible. They will provide large print and braille paper questionnaires. Telephone contact centers will utilize Telephone Device for the Deaf (TDD) technology for the phone questionnaire and the internet questionnaire will also be accessible to individuals with disabilities. Along with the actual questionnaires, it is crucial that outreach efforts be fully accessible as well.

For example, will a census event be held at an accessible location, or will it be inaccessible to those with mobility issues? Will 2020 Census handouts be available in accessible formats or will it be inaccessible to people who are visually impaired? Will it be assumed that someone with a developmental disability cannot complete the questionnaire without someone else completing it for them? Accessibility is easy to forget and not always believed necessary, but all groups and organizations should be encouraged to include everyone by keeping accessibility in mind leading up to Census Day 2020. Every community represents people with disabilities, and accessibility ultimately benefits everyone, not just people with disabilities.

Count Everyone, Include Everyone

Here are some simple accessibility tips to keep in mind as you continue outreach efforts leading up to Census Day 2020 and beyond! Try to use “people first” neutral language when talking about disabilities in general. For example, say “an individual with a disability”, “a person who has a cognitive disability”, “people [living] with mental illness”, and “persons who have a psychiatric disability”.

Please keep in mind that there is a growing push for the recognition and the use of “identity first” language within the disability rights/advocacy community as well, where people first language is viewed as a denial of ones identity as a disabled person. If not sure what term to use, by all means, ASK.

Physical Accessibility

Be sure to host any 2020 Census event at an accessible location. If parking is provided, wheelchair accessible parking should be available with an accessible entrance to the facility i.e. if there are stairs to the entrance be sure ramps or lifts are available. Within the facility be sure to have an accessible room and an accessible path to the room along with accessible microphone stands that participants can use.

Auditory Accessibility

When hosting 2020 Census events use microphones when speaking, and ask participants to do the same. Face participants when speaking, so people who read lips can understand the speaker. If an individual uses an interpreter, speak clearly and slowly to provide time for the interpreter to sign, and do not forget that when conversing with someone who uses an interpreter, speak directly to the person, not to the interpreter.


All Census 2020 outreach videos should have captions in order to be accessible. There are several ways to provide captions, including open captions, those that are burned in or embedded onto the video itself, accessible transcripts of the videos, or even simple YouTube captions. Just be sure the captions have been edited for accuracy first.

Visual Accessibility

You might want to share documents with people to encourage them to participate in the census. These documents should be available in various accessible formats, standard size font, large size (20 point) font, Braille, and perhaps even electronic versions for people who use screen readers. You should use a sans-serif font, such as Arial, Calibri, Helvetica, Tahoma, and Verbena. Times New Roman is not an accessible font.

Word and WordPerfect

Most documents created in Word or WordPerfect are accessible to screen readers if they only contain text (that is no photos, graphs, or clip art). The use of any non-text media in an accessible document makes the document inaccessible. This can be resolved by including a text description of the non-text media.


Documents converted to PDFs are not always accessible. To check whether a PDF is accessible, click on the “Select Text” icon. If you can select the text with your mouse, then the document is accessible. If you are unable to do so, it is not accessible.

Website Accessibility

Be sure to make your 2020 Census campaign website accessible. Create content with clear layouts that make it easy for users to see and hear content. Also, be sure the website can be accessed and read with various assistive technologies that people might use. Try to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.

For more information, please contact Erika Hudson, Policy Analyst, at [email protected] or your state/territory Protection and Advocacy (P&A) System.