A trillion Dollars in Disposable Income are influenced by disability

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Disability influences a trillion Dollars in
Disposable Income?
Every time you find an article explaining why brands and corporations should be tapping into the market
of people with disabilities (PWD) you encounter the argument that this market influences over a trillion
dollars in disposable income. I know the number is shocking, but I am going to explain where this money
is coming from and why this market should be seized by many corporations around the world.
First, we need to understand what Disposable Income means; it is the name given to the amount of
money that households have available for spending and saving after taxes have been accounted for. In
fact, it is one of the most common economic indicators used to gauge the overall state of the economy.
So, this means that the trillion dollars that everyone is talking about are what PWD and their families
have available to spend. However, where is this number coming from?
To understand where the trillion dollars are coming from, we must comprehend the global
demographics of disability. In 2011, the World Bank and the United Nations World Health Organization
(WHO) published a document titled “Global Report on Disability.” In that report, they wrote that “it is
estimated that more than 1 billion people live with some type of disability; that means around 15% of
the world’s total population.”1 They based this data on the many surveys that the WHO carried out to
understand the situation of health on a global scale. This number keeps growing because people are
getting older and there is an increase in chronic health problem associated with disabilities.
What this means is that the numbers estimated by the World Bank and the United Nations World Health
Organization have grown considerably, from 1 billion in 2011 to 1.3 billion in 2016. Thus, nearly one out
of every five individuals in the world has a disability. This translates to a market that can only be
compared in size to the total population of China.
With this size of population living with disabilities, the fact that we are talking about trillions of dollars in
disposable income should not come as a surprise, especially when you take into consideration that a
significant part of the growing population affected by age-related impairments are the demographic
cohort born between the years 1946 and 1964 defined as the wealthiest, most active, and most
physically fit generation up to the era in which they arrived, otherwise known as Baby Boomers. This
side note is essential to us because according to Accenture 2, control on their own $30 Trillion dollars
occurs just in the United states.
According to the United States Department of Labor, the disability market is the third largest market
segment in the United States3. By simply understanding the demographic numbers, you can start to see
the reason behind that declaration. Historically, PWD has had on average a lower income than their
peers without disabilities. Considering the average disposable income in the USA is $41 071 a year, and
that in the countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
1
http://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/en/
http://www.cnbc.com/2014/07/22/great-wealth-transfer-will-be-30-trillionyes-thats-trillion-with-a-t.html
3
https://www.dol.gov/odep/BusinessSense/2009/bsense0509.htm
2
(OECD) is $290164 a year. It is no surprise that PWD globally influence a market that surpasses the
Trillion Dollar mark and we could be talking in the coming years of tens of trillions of dollars.
However, to this disposable income you have to add a critical value, the Friends and Family
demographic. It consists of a huge group of people worldwide that have an innate reason to understand
disability and its impact on those with whom they have emotional and personal connections. Friends
and Family have witnessed first hand the challenges that PWD face when interacting with services and
products on a daily basis. Studies that show that this group functions like evangelists “ready to act and
preach to others about the value inherent in PWD.”
All this data begs the question why aren´t more corporations tapping into the vast potential of this
market. I believe it has to do with old paradigms about disability and accessibility that are still present.
Archaic beliefs and prejudices constitute barriers to education employment, health care, and social
participation for PWD. They are faced with detrimental attitudes their whole lives.
Employers tend to believe that PWD are less productive than their non-disabled counterparts.
Ignorance about inclusion and accessibility limit the company's perspective, which inevitably translates
into a thought that everything that can be done to guarantee access and opportunity for PWD must be
done as a charitable service and not as a business plan.
Of course, as awareness grows, more corporations are starting to see this market not as isolation from
the mainstream but as part of the broader consumer market. They are starting to realize that
innovations derived from helping PWD improve the experience for all. Simply by developing products
based on the seven principles of Universal Design, companies can bring change that helps the ease of
access for all. An excellent example of this is a physical space that includes ramps and elevators are
exactly as useful for a wheelchair user as it is for a mother with her baby in a stroller. Another example
is an accessible design for a website or an app, guaranteeing that interacting with it and doing what you
want is intuitive, improving user experience overall.
The disability market is the biggest untapped market in history. It is one of the greatest opportunities
for corporations as it is not only a market that can be seized to sell products. It is also a market segment
with fantastic human capital that can be captured with just a few tweaks in the environment that will
benefit all employees in ways that companies cannot start to imagine. This market segment gives them
a fast return on investment and, at the same time, engaging with a sizable market that is quickly
engaged at an emotional level.
The only way that CEO´s can start to understand how they can access this market is through education,
information, and raising awareness within the company to create plans that integrate at a core level the
importance of this market as both corporate social responsibility and good business practices.
4
http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/countries/united-states/
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