Time to Be Counted

The words United States Census 2020.

Time to Be Counted

Members of the National Federation of the Blind are used to standing up and being counted, but in 2020 we and our fellow Americans are being asked to do this in a quite literal way.

Update: Since this blog was posted, the Census Bureau has announced that it is suspending all field operations until April 1, 2020, in order to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Accordingly, the agency is urging Americans to take the census online. We have received reports that the online census questionnaire is accessible, though it has usability issues that require screen-reader users to explore each page thoroughly. Currently, there are still plans to send census takers to households beginning in late May.

This is the year of the federal census that takes place every ten years. The 2020 Census will be used to determine how many representatives each state has in the U.S. Congress. Also, according to the official census website, 2020census.gov, “Census results help determine how billions of dollars in federal funding flow into states and communities each year.” This could affect programs like Medicaid, Head Start, and SNAP, in addition to informing important decisions about new schools and additional services for seniors and children.

Is the Census Accessible?

Fortunately for us, the U.S. Census Bureau appears to have put in a lot of effort to make the 2020 Census accessible. Rather than filling out the paper questionnaire that will be sent to every home, we can, for the first time, fill it out online or over the telephone. A representative from the Census Bureau told us in an email that “the Census Bureau's 508 team conducted usability testing with visually impaired respondents. We received our 508 Certification in early February.” We were also referred to this fact sheet (accessible PDF) on census accessibility and this Braille (BRF) guide to the questionnaire. The document addresses the accessibility needs of many people with disabilities, including the blind and deafblind. Please note that the National Federation of the Blind was unable to test the online questionnaire prior to the publication of this post.

How to Participate

According to 2020census.gov, invitations and instructions regarding how to participate in the 2020 Census will be mailed to every home beginning March 12. The invitation will contain a twelve-digit census ID. This is the code that you can enter on the online questionnaire or give to a telephone representative in order to identify your address. Mailed census materials are in print, but if you cannot get the printed census ID for any reason, you can fill out the census questionnaire without it by providing a street address or other information about where you live. This document gives specific instructions on how to fill out the questionnaire if you do not have the census ID.

If you are deaf or deafblind, there are multiple ways for you to complete the questionnaire either online or in person. The 2020census.gov website says to request services for those who are deaf or hard of hearing through the relay service at 800-877-8339.

Of course, census takers visit American homes as part of the count too, especially if no questionnaire has been received. But if the census is fully accessible, then hopefully we can all complete this important civic duty on our own time if we choose.

—Chris Danielsen