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Disability Marketing: The Last Forgotten Segment

Advertising has always been one of the most inclusive sectors in the American economy. As early as the 1950s, Madison Avenue has figured out that it can make a “fine mint” targeting oft-forgotten segments of the US economy. Venerable “inclusive” PR firms such as Kaiser had their roots in targeting African Americans. Throughout the 60s and 70s it seemed like every daytime TV commercial was geared towards women. Kids get their own commercials; ads are translated into a myriad of languages.

Even various body types are now getting their day in the sun, with ads like Dove’s “Real Beauty,”becoming more and more the norm. It seems if you belong to a segmented population with at least 5,000 members or more, you wouldn’t have to look too hard to find some hard-nosed marketer looking to put you in a pie chart. But amidst this self-centered gold rush to “break advertising’s barriers” lies an incredibly large, all but invisible segment of the population: The disabled. There are an estimated staggering 1.3 billion people with some sort of disability (dexterity, cognition, or sensory) across the world, with some estimates placing the disability marketing in the US as high as $544 billion.

So ask yourself, what are you doing to capitalize on this opportunity? Here are 3 compelling reasons that make a solid business case to market to the last forgotten segment:

The Sheer Population

In the United States, a 2000 report from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research indicates that approximately 6.8 million individuals in the United States who are not institutionalized but have disabilities use assistive devices to help them with mobility.Among these people 1.7 million ride wheelchairs and scooters. About 6.1 million use both wheelchairs and other mobility devices, such as canes, crutches, and walkers, simultaneously.

Marketers have gotten fairly good at making sure their commercials reflect the diverse population they attempt to serve, by ensuring ethnic and gender diversity in their advertising. But next time your videographer gives you a sweeping shot of a bunch of inaccessible high-tops at your restaurant, or you just paid to recreate your website and did not think to include one stock image of a person with a visible disability who could be befitting from your product or service, think about how many potential customers you are losing out on.

It Heightens Your Brand Profile

In the age of brands running circles around each other in an effort to keep up with being “cool and inclusive,” it’s utterly shocking that so few companies have made a conscientious effort to recognize and honor the disabled, especially considering how cross-cutting disabilities truly are. One would be hard-pressed to find someone who has not been affected by disabilities in one way or another. Don’t emulate the trends. Take an early stand on the right side of this issue and ensure your marketing is as inclusive as possible. Your customers will take notice and thank you with their loyalty for many generations down the line.

You Will Have (Almost) No Competition

There are few marketing channels that remain as wide open as that of disability marketing. The number of inclusive advertising campaigns that have not come off as patronizing or inauthentic towards the disability community can be counted on one finger. By successfully crafting a campaign that is respectful and made alongside the disability community, through hearing their interests and concerns, you can expect a significant ROI relative to other comparable segmented marketing campaigns.

For the first time (perhaps) ever the business case for marketing to the disabled is crystal clear: This great forgotten segment is well-capitalized and hungry for the next company to fulfill their needs, be it travel, clothing, or products that they can benefit from. Beyond just the numbers however, there is the sense that not enough companies, large or small, have gotten on the right side of history on this issue.

From simply ignoring it, to clumsy pandering efforts to be inclusive, most companies would never have bothered to even think about the disabled if it weren’t for government regulation that they often don’t implement in a logical way (ADA rooms with High rise beds) or resent. But the disabled are a huge swath of the population. Almost everyone knows someone that has a disability and each one of us can join the ranks at any time. Take a look at how you can make even the smallest of changes and learn firsthand how their dollars are as green as anyone else’s.


Deborah is the owner of PushLivingPhotos and, one of the web’s leading blogs on the subject of disability lifestyle and marketing. At the age of 18, Deborah was involved in a major car accident, sustaining a C6/C7 spinal injury, resulting in incomplete quadriplegia. That however has not prevented her from living a fulfilling life as a business woman, mother, advocate, world traveler, and owner of the some of the world’s top disability marketing properties.