Digital inclusion and disability – a growing market

The global spending power of people with disabilities exceeds $1 trillion, while in the UK it’s circa £250 billion – and growing. Profusion consultant Michael Brennan looks at digital inclusion and disability, the ‘purple pound’ and the case for embracing it.

I really like the positioning of PWD as one of the world’s key emerging markets. It makes it clear that there’s a strong commercial rationale for focusing on accessibility and inclusion as a means to grow the market for products and services.

The challenge for all businesses today is finding new sources of (organic) growth, and for consumer brands and propositions this makes perfect sense. Not least as it also taps into the emerging Gen Z market and its members’ focus on social causes, brand purpose and the triple bottom line.

Blend inclusion into the mainstream

Of course, as that reference to Gen Z might imply, the challenge is to make this an authentic, 360-degree commitment covering all aspects of business operations and the supply chain. Anything less and brands will be vulnerable to the inevitable social backlash.

Equally important is not to ghettoise the inclusive proposition and to integrate it into the mainstream offer and brand values. A great example of the former is the NatWest banking app launched in 2016. Designed for all users, it was subsequently accredited by the RNIB as being particularly well suited to the needs of visually impaired people.

What’s interesting in the context of Profusion’s work with HSBC Digital Inclusion, is how we collaboratively developed the concept of situational impairment. This especially related to instantly recognisable smartphone scenarios such as struggling to see your screen while being dazzled by the sun, and trying to answer your phone while carrying a bag and a coffee. It’s clear that any investment in improving accessibility for people with disabilities would have far greater reach, benefits and ROI.

Next step: disability and diverse social backgrounds

From our perspective it’s great to see M&S featured as a pioneering retailer and how this could extend into its finance arena. Elsewhere, Ikea is also showing that DIY could be made more accessible for physically impaired customers, and Tommy Hilfiger is a leader in the fashion arena.

As a business, we’re reflecting on the key role technology has played in improving the life experience of disabled people. Sensory augmentation products such as spectacles and hearing aids have long been accepted. And now we’re getting to grips with augmented intelligence, which will also improve the quality of life of many more millions worldwide, especially in relation to neurodiversity.

We’re also considering how technology – especially digital – has improved the employability and earning potential of people with disabilities. While significant employment and income gaps remain, the outlook does appear to be improving for many. Arguably, the next stage is to improve the life chances of PWD from diverse social backgrounds.

This concept of intersectionality has grown out of the feminist movement, specifically the experience of black women. It now has far broader applications. Improving diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and impairment representation needs to also encompass social backgrounds. In this way, it will give a truer picture and deliver real diversity.

 

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