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October is National Disability Employment Awareness month. While there have been significant strides celebrating disability, such as Unilever’s revolutionary innovations, disability inclusion often remains an afterthought or one-dimensional compliance check box for many advertisers and agencies.
We’ve seen brands rapidly and dynamically shift marketing and hiring practices in support of marginalized communities and minority groups, but disability has typically been relegated to conversations surrounding the Paralympics, other tentpole media events or the introduction of accessibility features in products and services. In the US, 26% of the population is disabled but according to a study conducted by Nielsen, only 1% of primetime ads feature people with disabilities.
These marketing efforts are welcomed but present a fraction of the possible opportunities to invite the disability community to the table in more powerful, purposeful and productive ways. I’m blind every day, and for approximately 64 million Americans and over one billion people globally, disability is a constant that should be considered more ineptly by marketers.
While accessibility successes via technology and in marketing are important milestones along an equitable path of disability inclusion, these efforts marginalize larger considerations and highlight challenges.
First, consider the consumer journey for disabled customers
Based on fear tactics of non-compliance and litigation, many brands are led to believe that an accessible overlay onto an existing website is the primary and only solution but these overlays are a bolted-on, singular aspect of engaging the disability community.
Consider a typical customer journey of someone with a disability that is connecting with your brand and others online. Does it really make sense that at each new website someone would search for the accessibility overlay, click through to make adjustments that cater to their experience and continue to move to different websites? Where, at each initial exploration, they find the overlay identifying accessibility options, fidget and make changes?
That continual adjustment would be extremely frustrating for any consumer. More often than not, people with disabilities have already optimized their digital engagement features in settings on their phone, tablet, laptop or desktop in a way that suits their needs.
However, the ultimate mismatch of accessibility and disability inclusion for a brand’s online presence is the fact that most marketers stop at their website when it comes to inclusive content such as photos, videos and text that, in some way, welcome the disability community. Disabled customer journeys and their associated marketing funnel must be considered to drive purchase decisions forward instead of derailing because of gaps in accessibility and inclusion.
Second, the hidden gaps in DEI training point to a bigger problem
Marketers are recognizing the need to be educated on these topics related to disability, but there are gaps when training teams to develop inclusive content and accessible marketing touchpoints. Accessibility and inclusion training points to a talent recruitment gap, as most professionals being trained are non-minority and non-disabled.
Microsoft is leading the way with talent recruitment by measuring and committing to close the gap between the percent of their global workforce that identifies as having a disability, and the percent of the global disabled population. Accenture reported that the gross domestic product has the potential to increase up to $25 billion if just one percent more people with disabilities are hired into the United States labor force.
Be a part of the inclusion revolution
Simply put, take actions to welcome more people with disabilities into your marketing efforts. Here are some considerations:
Reach out to disabled student interns. Sharing your brand and marketing experiences with disabled students may be one of the first times they consider marketing, branding and advertising as a profession.
Hire disabled talent. Bring on more workforce with disabilities in permanent or consultant roles to amplify voices internally and among teams.
Support disability self-disclosure. Many employees, even in the C-suite, may have not self-disclosed about their disability and not understand the value of doing so. Developing a self-disclosure action plan in your organization will support accurate measurement of the number of disabled employees, strengthen peer identity bonds and ultimately recognizes that there should not be negative ramifications, such as job security, associated with coming out and sharing a disability.
Establish disability employee resource groups. Don’t fall into the trap of always turning to the disability employee resource group for marketing to the disability community, when their tasks may not readily tie into marketing efforts.
Connect with disability business resource groups. Recognize where disability connections can be built into your vendor, supply chain and other external partnerships.
Authentically connect accessibility to creativity. Work with your marketing teams to tap into disability conversations, lived experiences and narratives earlier in the creative process.
Augment metrics and insights to include disability. There is minimal marketing research inclusive of disabled consumers, and there is strong potential to add robust insights. Measuring marketing ties will allow for more accurate trending, dollars and engagement associated with the disability community to more accurately approach future planning and commitments.
Recognize the value of inclusive design. Designing inclusive products and services goes beyond benefiting the disability community—it leads to better problem solving for your entire customer base.
Celebrate disability in your external and internal marketing. Go beyond the Paralympics. Many who identify as having a disability celebrate their individuality alongside common bonds with the larger disability community.
Facilitate disability education and training. So little education and training has taken place among corporations and brands that, often, there are foundational points of etiquette training when interacting with people with disabilities. This matters. It also points to the need to welcome people with disabilities as employees, be accurately represented within advertising and be incorporated into research and insights to share among teams and partners.