People with disabilities are the largest and fastest-growing
subgroup of the population, according to
the U.S. Census Bureau. Surprisingly, while we see
more photos of people with disabilities in general
communications these days, they’re still largely
ignored as a target market. Yet the facts on the
opportunities to market to people with disabilities
speak for themselves.
Did you know that:
20 percent of the U.S., or 54 million people, have a
disability. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)
Of the 54 million people limited in their activities
due to long-term disability …
- 73 percent are the heads of households
- 46 percent are married
- 58 percent own their own homes
- 77 percent have no children
- 48 percent are principal shoppers
The aggregate income of people with disabilities
tops $1 trillion. This includes $220 billion in discretionary
income. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)
Of the 69.6 million families in the U.S., 20.3
million families have at least one member with a disability.
(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)
In 1995, people with disabilities spent $81.7 billion
on travel. This did not include significant expenditures
by their families, friends and escorts. (Source:
Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality)
Four out of 10 people with disabilities conduct
business and personal activities online, logging an
average of 20 hours per week. That’s more time, on
average, than non-disabled web surfers spend online.
Among people with disabilities, 48 percent say
the internet has significantly improved the quality of
their lives. Compare this to only 27 percent of adults
According to the March 2001 supplement to
the Current Population Survey, the mean earnings
in 2000 of year-round, full-time workers 16 to 64
with work disabilities was $33,109. (Source: National
Organization on Disability, www.nod.org)
The youngest cohorts: 18- to 29-year-olds are
almost as likely as their non-disabled counterparts
to go out to restaurants at least once per week.
Compare: 59 percent of this group, versus 61 percent
of non-disabled young people, eat out regularly.
(Source: National Organization on Disability, www.
The employment picture for 18- to 29-year-olds
is the most promising. Among this cohort,
57 percent of those with disabilities who are able
to work are employed, compared to 72 percent of
their non-disabled counterparts. (Source: National
Organization on Disability, www.nod.org)
According to a General Accounting Office
report, implementing the access provisions of the
ADA has increased revenues in the hotel and hospitality
industry by 12 percent.
Companies marketing to people with disabilities
can reach as many as four in every 10 consumers.
Three in four adults say they would be likely
to switch to a brand associated with a “good cause.”
(Source: 1997 Cone/Roper Cause-Related Marketing
By the year 2050, one in every four Americans
will be over the age of 65. It is estimated that over 50
percent of this age category will have a mobility limitation.
This number is projected to increase dramatically,
reaching greater than 70 percent after the age of 74.
Any effort to address the diverse needs of people
with disabilities is an opportunity to market to a
Where the dollars are
Eric Lipp, executive director for the Open Doors
Organization, a Chicago-based nonprofit group,
notes that the disability market controls more than
twice the discretionary spending of the estimated
$67 billion teen market. Yet not even half the
marketing dollars are targeted at the disabled. If
online marketers and advertisers are looking for new
marketing opportunities, the Journal of Advertising
Research (September 2006) recommends targeting the substantial number of consumers with disabilities
who are online. Yet again, despite its size and
positive attitude toward the internet, this market
segment also has been largely ignored.
Smart guidelines from the experts
Experts in marketing to people with disabilities
say the way to reach the majority of this market is
to target the mainstream disability market before
segmenting by specific types of disabilities. While
this is a diverse group in respect to culture, demographics
and spending potential, the research shows
disability itself creates a meaningful commonality.
And for every person with a disability, there are
many family members and friends who are seeking
information for their friends or family members who
have a disability.
Here are a few marketing recommendations
from the experts and the National Organization on
- Do research with people with disabilities to
orient your materials development and marketing
strategy. See the Harris Survey conducted
for the National Organization on Disability
(www.nod.org) for a good starting point.
- Test your marketing approach and products
with people who have disabilities.
- Sensitively integrate graphics of people with
disabilities into design. Learn about how
people with disabilities prefer to be portrayed.
- Be sure to reflect the diverse needs of the disabled
- Think how to reach people with disabilities
through multichannel mainstream outlets.
Go beyond special-interest magazines and
websites to national TV, radio, cable networks
and mainstream publications.
According to the market research, people with
disabilities (and their families) tend to express very
high loyalty to companies and organizations that
make an attempt to understand them clearly.
So ask yourself how you can improve
your marketing by thinking 360˚ about
multicultural, multichannel marketing to people with disabilities:
- Review strategies to engage your team, clients
or firm in marketing to, and designing
for, people with disabilities.
- Review evolving approaches and best practices
to try out.
- Develop a comprehensive marketing plan to
meet the needs of our changing society.
- Inspire action through creativity!