The chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said yesterday that discrimination against the disabled, "continues to be a serious and pervasive social problem," particularly in the areas of education, employment, medical care and architectural barriers.

The commission released a 173-page report summarizing federal laws and court cases and citing statistical evidence of discrimination against the estimated 9 to 14 percent of the American population--20 to 31 million people--with a mental, physical or emotional handicap.

Among the evidence:

* Unemployment rates among handicapped workers run between 50 and 75 percent, up from pre-recession levels of 45 percent.

* Despite many federal and private studies dating back to 1948 showing that handicapped and nonhandicapped workers are equally productive, "for every educational level, the average wage rate of disabled people is below" that of nondisabled people.

The commission report and statements at a news conference yesterday advocated increased accommodation and increased enforcement of federal prohibitions against discrimination but did not suggest that disability discrimination can be treated the same way as racial or gender discrimination.

A commission lawyer said this means that remedies for the disabled must involve more accommodation than do remedies for minorities or women. If a handicapped person has no arms, he said, he must be given some way to walk through a closed door.

But the commission tacitly turned back arguments of some disability groups that cost should be no factor in determining the disabled people's access rights.