10 Ways to Target the Disability Market & Keep a Competitive Edge

By Darren Bates


The 2010 Census found that 1 in 5 people have a disability in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 54 million people living with disabilities represent approximately $1 trillion in aggregate income that translates into more than $220 billion in discretionary consumer spending power!

According to Charles A. Riley II and the International Center for Corporate Accountability, that consumer power adds up to more than the African‐American, Latino, and LGBTQ markets combined. The disability community’s consumer spending power is double the spending power of teens and more than 17 times the spending power of tweens (8‐ to 12‐year‐olds) –the two most highly sought after demographic groups.

Does your business want a slice of this power demographic? Any smart business would and experts in the field now agree, to remain relevant and competitive in the changing market, companies must implement strategic diversity and inclusion strategies throughout their corporate infrastructure.

How does a business tap into the disability market?

Opportunities for Community Development Finance in the Disability Market describes several ways to develop a comprehensive diversity and inclusion strategy that will affect all aspects of a company’s activities, from hiring to product design and marketing. There may be multiple ways to build an effective diversity and inclusion strategy, but one thing is very clear. To accomplish its aim and purpose, companies must incorporate a robust public relations plan as a central foundational element of any diversity and inclusion strategy. A company will not move into the vanguard of disability employment practice or tap into the disability market without a solid public relations plan. A company must have a marketing strategy and mechanism that builds a company’s brand as an inclusive workplace committed to equality and to hiring, retaining and promoting people with disabilities. The comprehensive nature of such a strategic diversity and inclusion strategy will promote and foster a company’s success in hiring and fully integrating people with disabilities into its corporate culture.

A successful diversity and inclusion strategy must include a robust public relations plan that builds a company’s brand as an inclusive workplace committed to equality and to hiring, retaining and promoting people with disabilities.

The names of companies that have recognized the value of hiring and promoting people with disabilities are well‐known, especially to the disability community. Companies like IBM and Microsoft have matched product launches to local disability employment programs focused on career pathways for adults with disabilities.

Another great example and long-time leader in this area is Ernst & Young (EY). EY has demonstrated a long-time public commitment to creating an inclusive workplace both globally and domestically. DiversityInc ranked and featured EY at the very top of its list in the 2014 Issue of Top 10 Companies for People With Disabilities –which created a media marketing blitz and a windfall of increased market-share and financial gain. The 2014 rankings were released at the DiversityInc Top 50 Announcement Event in New York City on April 22, which convened more than 750 business leaders.

Positive brand reputations are not gained by coincidence. They involve the step‐by‐step development of a diversity and inclusion strategy that starts with hiring and goes well beyond to include a public relations plan that builds loyalty and interest in the disability community.

10 Ways to Target the Disability Market and Keep a Competitive Edge Advantage

Below are 10 Ways to Target the Disability Market and Keep a Competitive Edge. If you put these 10 strategies into action, your company will develop an “Unfair Advantage” over the competition. Before you raise your brow, let me define the term. An unfair advantage is not lying, double-crossing, or larceny. It’s exactly the opposite. An unfair advantage is doing everything just a little bit better than your competition.

Unfair Advantage

Follow these 10 strategies and your company will attract the talents of job seekers with disabilities, including a set of individuals with disabilities that have achieved advanced degrees and other valuable trade-skills. What that means is your company will have access to a renewable recruiting resource it can leverage to optimize its talent acquisition, fill open positions at all company levels, and set the pace for sustainable success!

1) Go to the Source

When developing or redeveloping your initial marketing strategy, be sure to include people with disabilities on your marketing team. The best way to market to any demographic is to first understand your market –and who would know best what people with disabilities want and need than other people with disabilities. People with disabilities will be able to tell you what is most important to their needs. If you don’t include people with disabilities on your marketing team, you can be sure of one thing —you will short-circuit and miss this market all together.

2) Support the Community

Make sure your company shows local community support for people with disabilities. Encourage members of your staff to attend City Council, City Planning and other public meetings that have a relevant disability focus such as your city’s Mayor’s Committee for Persons with Disabilities. Introduce yourself and your company at those meetings and consider providing a 3-5 bullet flyer that highlights your companies diversity practices – inviting job seekers with disabilities to apply for open positions, encouraging disability-owned suppliers and welcoming customers with disabilities to buy and use your products.

Create a positive company image and brand reputation for your business that says, “We support people with disabilities, older Americans and Veterans –everyone is part of our business success.

3. Engage with Local Disability Organizations and Business Leadership Networks

Affiliate your company with local disability organizations that are working to ensure the success and independence of Americans living with cross-disabilities. Encourage your staff to volunteer at local non-profit organizations that are focused on increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities, e.g, Independent Living Centers, Aging and Disability Resource Centers, non-profits such as Goodwill, and other disability coalitions such as the Employment Alliance for People with Disabilities in Austin, TX –which hosts an inclusive job fair each year targeted to job seekers with disabilities and open-to-the public.

Seek out and participate in your local Business Leadership Network to advance your disability resources and network. Keep in mind that volunteering, participating in an inclusive job fair or giving a yearly donation, increases your company’s involvement in the disability community and “disability‐friendly” efforts will attract the disability community’s attention and approval.

Your company’s commitment to the disability community will itself become part of your brand message —creating a strong positive word‐of‐mouth, which can multiply on its own throughout the disability community by means of social media, blogs and list‐serves.

4. Know Your Community and Market

Three words: Know your customer. Know your customer. Know your customer! The basic building blocks of advertising and marketing make it essential to know who you are marketing your products to and who is buying them. –Here’s the key: Customers will shop and dine where they feel comfortable and purchase products that support their personal identity.

In 1998, Mattel scored with Share‐a‐Smile Becky (Barbie’s companion in a wheelchair). Just a few weeks after CNN had aired its unusually lengthy two‐minute piece about the product launch, the doll was sold out.

5. Think Employment

This tip is similar to #4 —but with a slightly different focus. As with any customer segment, the best way to tap into a demographic market is to ensure it’s represented in your workforce and supply chain. Be proactive in your recruiting and hiring efforts and be sure to include people with cross-disabilities (different types of disabilities ). Doing so will benefit your company by adding value and various perspectives. The American Association of People with Disabilities and Public Opinion Research Inc. report that more than 70 percent of members choose to buy from retailers that support people with disabilities, while a similar survey from the Center for Social Development and Education at the University of Massachusetts at Boston noted that 92 percent of participants with disabilities felt more favorable toward companies that employ individuals with disabilities, and 87 percent would give their business to those companies (Siperstein et al. 2006).

6. Create a Channel for Communication

Create an employee advisory committee, employee resource group (consisting of people with and without disabilities) and make it one of their goals to evaluate company-wide workplace accessibility. These groups offer employees an opportunity to network, address common issues and concerns, and receive support from those who share similar backgrounds, experiences, or interests.

7. Advertise Your Support

Make sure your company brand is inclusive by integrating people with disabilities in your advertising campaigns as models, actors, and spokespersons. Recent statistics tell us that 1 in 5 people in the US has a disability, but 1 in 3 people know someone with a disability. By placing a person using a wheelchair or man and his service dog in your advertising materials, you are speaking very loudly to the disability community. This doesn’t cost extra money. Simply cast actors with cross-disabilities. The message you send will say, “…people of all abilities are welcome here.”

Remember that it has been proven that people with disabilities are more likely to patronize a business that would employ them.

8. Advertise in Disability Media

Reach out to customers with disabilities through various disability publications and through your company’s social media platforms. Today the buzz is spread through social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and your company’s social media voice and platform should include disability‐forward thinking and disability topics as a way to build brand loyalty and interest.

9. Advertise in the Mainstream Media

Reach out to customers with disabilities through mainstream advertising. One in five people in the US are living with a disability —add their “Allies” and that number dramatically increases. Allies are made up of friends, family members, spouses, caregivers and even acquaintances. Allies support disability issues and are sensitive to the needs of the disability community. When Allies come across an opportunity for the people they know and care for that are living with a disability, they will tell them about it. Yes, every time. It’s that simple!

10. Always Think Diversity and Inclusion

To tap into the multibillion dollar disability market, your company must remain competitive and keep its business approach relevant to people with disabilities and their Allies. Be sure new product ideas and marketing efforts reflect universal design to ensure equal access and full participation by the disability community.

A comprehensive diversity strategy will ultimately affect the very culture and future success of your business. Karyn Twaronite, EY Americas Inclusiveness Officer and a partner of Ernst & Young LLP, added: “We’ve long known that diversity and inclusiveness create a competitive edge. EY’s research consistently shows that when our people feel valued for their unique talents and insights, together we create the highest performing teams that deliver exceptional quality and client service. Differences present opportunities. Inclusiveness drives results.”


This article gives some helpful advice about how to market to people with disabilities. It lists ten tips to make sure that the disabled market is being included in a business’ actions and product development. This is almost a road map for how to build up a business model from the bottom that embraces the needs of all people.