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How To Market For Disability Inclusion

Blog, Diversity & Inclusion, Small Business

Marketing involves researching and understanding your target market and/or audience and authentically connecting to them with your product or service. That is the cliff-note version.

Marketing is much more comprehensive than that, but the intricacies are not important for this article. What is important is digging in and gaining a better understanding of a certain demographic of people that are often underrepresented in marketing.

Those that are disabled, or sometimes referred to as alter-abled and are known as superheroes are an audience that is being overlooked in marketing.

According to Forbes, “Over 42 million Americans have a severe disability, and 96% of them are unseen. Examples of invisible debilitating physical and mental conditions include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, affective disorders, diabetes, cancer, lupus, Crohn’s disease, and fibromyalgia.”

Having a better understanding of this enables you to be a better business owner or marketer. It helps grow the conversation and understanding of inclusivity in its many forms.

Informative and Supportive Disability Statistics

  • 61 million adults in the United States live with a disability
  • 26% (1 in 4) of the adults in the United States have some type of disability, the percentage of people living with disabilities is the highest in the South
  • Percentage of adults with functional disability types:
    • 13.7% mobility: serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs
    • 10.8% cognition: serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
    • 6.8% independent living: difficulty doing errands alone
    • 5.9% hearing: deafness or serious difficulty hearing
    • 4.6% vision: blindness or serious difficulty seeing
    • 3.7% self-care: difficulty dressing or bathing
  • Disability is especially common in these groups:
    • 2 in 5 adults age 65 years and older have a disability
    • 1 in 4 women have a disability
    • 2 in 5 Non-Hispanic American Indians/Alaskan Natives have a disability
  • People living with disabilities are more likely to have obesity (38.2% for people with disabilities compared to 26.2% of people without), smoke (28.2% compared to 13.4%), have heart disease (11.5% compared to 3.8%), and have diabetes (16.3% compared to 7.2%)
  • Healthcare access barriers for working-age adults include
    • 1 in 3 do not have a usual healthcare provider
    • 1 in 3 have an unmet healthcare need because of cost in the past year
    • 1 in 4 did not have a routine check-up in the past year

DEI: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Include Disabilities

DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) are hot topics right now and they deserve to be due to their importance in creating a better world.

However, one of the largest marginalized groups of people in the United States that has gone under the radar even with a steep rise in DEI conversations, are those in the disabled community.

The disabled community does not discriminate. Disabled people are of all races, ages, demographics, and genders. They are our neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family, and yet we do not even know that someone is disabled.

Not all disabled people want to be open about their disability due to judgment and vulnerability, while others can’t hide their disability – which brings a whole new level of judgment and treatment.

Both have their challenges but we live in the same world. Whether visible or invisible people with a disability deserve consideration in all things – including marketing.

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Disabilities Are Not Fair, But We Are Human

None of it is fair and truly, no one is excited about being disabled. No one is running around thanking the universe for making our lives harder wrapped with unneeded judgment and little to no understanding.

I know I am not, I just do my best to live the best I can with what I have! I know there are others who feel the same. You just learn to accept what is.

We try not to whine and most times we keep ourselves together other times – life just sucks as we navigate an able-bodied world with grief and shame for something we did not order – like those tasty McDonalds fries.

Listen I am allergic to everything and can eat only 10 foods, so I like to slip in food references of things I can’t eat into my articles to bring me joy. This is one of the ways I handle my grief. I am grieving those Mc Donalds fries right now as I write this.

Sure, over time – many of us learn to lean into our disabilities and own them. Our disabilities might even make us better people or we might just fall so deeply into acceptance that we wear it as a badge of honor. *puts a tiny badge on a bright pink sweater*

The journey is very challenging and individual, and let me tell you – most of us did not sign up for this bullshit. It’s a 0/10 and it is not recommended.

Disabilities As a Target Marketing or Audience

Okay, now that you got a little taste of what our demographic or people are like and what we deal with, marketers should know that the disabled community wants to be marketed to and we want to be included. *shocking*

As a disabled business owner (I Was Not Always A Proud Disabled Business Owner) and consumer, it behooves me that advertisements and those in marketing forget we even exist (like Generation X) or think just because we are disabled we don’t have money or buying power.

Remember there are poor able-bodied people and poor disabled people. There are rich disabled people as well as rich able-body people. That was a tongue twister, but I think you get it.

Disability does not ultimately make us poor, just like race, sex, or age does not ultimately make anyone poor. Being disabled is just a part of a larger equation of a whole human as well as any other demographic measuring tool.

An example is I saw this meme recently and it really hit home.

We Are Unicorns…

This as well as a recent podcast I was on made it even more apparent to me that people literally have no idea that people with disabilities are real people who should be treated as human beings.

We exist. We really do.

I know we are unicorns and that is just too much for some humans to comprehend. The magic is real!

Seriously, disabled people buy things!

Many of us eat food (shocking). We buy clothes. We date and have relationships. We like sports and vacations. We play games and ride bikes. We have kids and also we have sex. All of this is shocking I know.

Marketing To Disabled People

I was recently asked how can we market and include disabled people in our marketing as the majority of disabilities are invisible.

Let me tell you how much I loved that question. It showed just how hard it is to wrap your head around speaking to a demographic of people who are kind of seen, but not really.

This also demonstrates how half of us that are disabled feel completely unseen, but it also gave me a window in to help explain a way to reach both the visible and invisible disabilities.

Since we can’t be sure who is invisibly disabled, one of the ways to signal the world that we are trying to connect to that demographic of people is by using visually obvious cues of disability representation.

For example, when we are thinking of marketing materials, print advertising or websites (website accessibility is always important) where there are no sounds, visual is all we have.

We have amazing disabled humans out there who have contributed to stock photos and other assets to create inclusivity in your marketing collateral. In turn, people like myself who are not visibly disabled see that you are trying to be inclusive and we FEEL THAT.

Target advertisement supporting children with disabilities.

Stock images showing disability inclusivity.

 

Understand that if you are just creating marketing collateral for inclusivity “just because it’s hip” we can FEEL THAT too. When you start reaching out to the disabled community in marketing – be authentic.

When I see a person in a wheelchair, missing a limb, or someone with Down’s Syndrome (to name a few) in a commercial or advertisement, I have to say I feel a lump in my throat.

As human beings, even without a disability, marketers, and advertisers have marketed by promoting perfection. Examples may be the perfect thin model with long blonde hair or the tall dark and handsome man with a six-pack that looks like hot rolls just came out of the oven (there I go with food again).

This is not what most humans look like and it is not a measurement of worth. Now that we are seeing brands like Dove providing exposure with inclusivity, not only is it good for humanity, but from a marketing perspective, it’s good for their bottom line.

Consider How Disabled People Pay Access Your Content

If you don’t design your marketing content or campaigns with people with disabilities in mind, they may not be accessible to them – you will be missing a whole demographic of people.

Below are some helpful assistive technology that is often used. These are not all the options available, but a few options to consider when marketing and creating content.

Voice Control: With voice control functions, you can speak commands to your computer and have them translated into text, or have your voice commands trigger mouse and keyboard actions.

Screen Readers: Screen readers are assistive software that converts text, buttons, images, and other screen elements into speech or braille.

Captions: Captions are the visual display of the audio component of video programming, allowing people to read spoken dialogue, and non-speech information, like music or sound effects.

Keyboard Navigation:Keyboard navigation allows people who are unable to use a mouse to navigate content by using key functions on their keyboards. For example, the Tab key moves a screen reader user forward through content.

Color Modification: Color modification allows you to change the display colors to a more suitable scheme. This includes high contrast modes, and inverted color settings that may make text and links easier to read on a black background.

Brailliant BI 32 (NEW generation) Braille Display – By Canadialog

Website Accessibility is Crutial

A website is one of the most important marketing tools a company can have and providing accessibility to your website is not only just an amazing thing to do for your community but helps you reach a wider audience.

Website accessibility is a hot topic right now. We are hearing a lot of companies that offer accessibility options for your website wrapped in the fear of being sued. We never know as business owners if we will be sued, but this is why we have insurance.

As a digital marketing agency that offers our clients accessibility components for their websites that we build or just as an addition to a website, a client might already have. We do not believe in marketing the fear element.

If you want to be accessible because it feels right, we got you. If you are doing it because you are fearful you are going to be sued – we do not want to encourage that belief.

Website accessibility is an option, not a law. However, we highly encourage our clients to add accessibility to their websites.

Conclusion

With consideration of marketing to more demographics of people as well as including those with disabilities in your campaigns, you not only help the conversation continue, but you also create a space that helps people like me feel welcome.

Plus, people with disabilities or those who have been greatly marginalized by society when they’re recognized, understood, and represented will be your most loyal patrons.

I am a unicorn with some dollars that want to loyally support your brand. There are more unicorns like me. Don’t ignore our magic.

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Further Reading On Disability Inclusion

This is a conversation that I am deeply passionate about. For further reading, I was recently interviewed in Authority magazine in their latest article “Disability Inclusion In The Workplace: Aunia Kahn Of Rise Visible On How Businesses Make Accommodations For Customers and Employees Who Have A Disability as well as being interviewed on starter story, “My Journey Building A 6-Figure Business As A Disabled Woman In Tech

. . .

Bonus Discovery: Bionic Reading

I could not help sharing with you “Bionic Reading“. I was beyond excited at how much easier it was for me to read text due to being very neurodivergent (differing in mental or neurological function from what is considered typical or normal ).

Bionic Reading was created by a Swiss developer named Renato Casuut. His aim was to make reading easier by “guiding the eyes through artificial fixation points.”

Your eyes focus on the bolded part of the word and your brain completes the rest easier that see the whole word at one time. It helps you read can read faster while still retaining the full context.

 

When sharing this on my social network, I found numerous people found it hard to read and others I knew were neurodivergent were mind blown and raving at how remarkable this small change in reading text helps them read better.

I love it personally! It is just another way to look at marketing and typography. Even if you will not use this in marketing, a pro tip is to make sure you are using readable fonts. Not only are they accessible – the easier anyone can read your marketing materials or website, the easier it is to connect to your audience or target market.

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Aunia Kahn, Rise Visible CEO

Aunia Kahn is the CEO of Rise Visible. With 24 years in the industry, she is a highly sought-after digital marketer, strategist, designer and public speaker. Rise Visible was named a Top-Ranking Woman-Owned Digital Agency by Clutch and is a certified Disability-Owned Business Enterprises (DOBE®). Kahn is also an internationally renowned artist and photographer and has been in over 300 exhibitions in 10 countries; at places such as SDAI, iMOCA, and the SLAM. She founded Create for Healing, is the host of the Rise Above Be Visible Podcast and a contributing writer for Better Marketing and Just Creative. She been featured on Yahoo, Prevention Magazine, Authority Magazine and Entrepreneur on Fire. She also identified as a disabled business owner in STEM surviving and thriving with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (Type 3), MCAS, Dysautonomia, POTS, PTSD, etc.

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