Defining the Need
As we've moved along the process of establishing an Exceptional Foundation in Atlanta, we've been fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit with many amazing people and to see the organizations they represent. They are leaders in the community, parents, advocates, caregivers, friends, etc. - you name it, we've talked to them. And although we've received an enormous amount of incredible advice that will certainly help guide us along the way, the answer to one question always seemed to evade us - Exactly how many "special needs" people are out there? More specifically, prove to us why programs such as the Exceptional Foundation are so critically needed? So being the go-getters (self-described of course…!) that we are, we figured why not try and answer the question for ourselves? So of course we did…
The question itself appears to be rather straight-forward when you first consider it. Type "how many special needs people are there in the US"… or "Georgia"… or "Atlanta"…into Google however and the results are anything but conclusive. The US Census concludes that approximately one in every five Americans has some form of disability. This is far too broad for us though so we thought, how about trying to first figure out how many people in the US have Down syndrome and then maybe autism? These are also individuals that we believe are the most likely to take advantage of a program such as the Exceptional Foundation. From here, we had to decide on which sources we wanted to use, and after significant consideration, we decided to use data provided by the US Census Bureau and the Georgia Department of Education. Neither is perfect, but taken together along with several generally accepted high level statistics, we believe we have produced defensible estimates. Disappointingly, there is no readily available information regarding the Down syndrome population in either the US as a whole or simply Georgia. And what we really need is even more granular - for example, Gwinnett County. In order to arrive there however, we must first start by looking at the larger picture. Here's what we found.