- The disability market (people with disabilities) and their loved ones with an emotional investment in disability equality already represent 53% of the global marketplace.
- This market is set to grow and become more influential as the baby boomer generation reaches an age where 51.8% of people are living with a disability.
- The disability market remains relatively open, with little market space claimed so far.
- Disability equality law presents an opportunity for market growth, rather than just a necessary cost of doing business.
- By taking a proactive approach to the disability market, businesses can reduce overall costs of compliance, capture a significant market share, and can develop competencies and foster innovation that leads to long-term market success.
The idea that compliance with disability equality law presents an opportunity for market growth, rather than just a necessary cost of doing business in certain jurisdictions, has been around for more than a decade. One early mention of the potential opportunities in this market can be found in The Inclusive Corporation, A Disability Handbook for Business Professionals, by Griff Hogan, published in 2003.
Popular media took a little longer to catch on, with one of the first substantive opinions on the disability market seen in an article published in 2012 in The Economist. This article called the disability market 'the new green', outlining why businesses would be wise to look at the disability market as the new environmentalism. (source: "The new green").
In 2014, Barclays added weight to the idea of the disability market being an opportunity for economic growth as it introduced a 'socially conscious' Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) called the "Return on Disability ETN" (RODI). RODI is Barclay's second 'socially conscious' ETF - following the "Barclays Women in Leadership Index" introduced in July 2014.
'Doing Disability Well'
Media commentary and the introduction of these financial products reflect the increasing value of socially responsible corporate governance. Businesses that act strategically in this area from a disability perspective are increasingly recognised as 'doing disability well'; a term coined by the Return on Disability Group.
However, being proactive in regard to the disability market has come to be seen as going beyond simple considerations of corporate social governance. At EquaLex, we recommend an approach where the goal of disability equality is deeply integrated into business decision-making at every level of the company. This approach creates new sources of value across the business by fusing meaningful and sustainable compliance with innovation. Instead of living in fear of being targeted for non-compliance with disability equality laws, a number of savvy businesses have recognised the disability market's value, and the relative openness of the market as it currently stands. These businesses and the disability market are now benefitting from each other.
We refer to this as a virtuous circle of influence, where enhanced recognition of the disability market's economic value leads to enhanced market participation, in turn reinforcing an appreciation of the market's value, and so on. At the heart of this virtuous circle are disability equality laws; laws that have typically provided the initial impetus for businesses to improve accessibility.
Disability Equality Laws
Disability equality laws are essentially market participation measures that have enjoyed a degree of success over recent years. The successful implementation of these laws has not only increased the disposable income and influence of some people with disabilities, it has also enhanced the appreciation of the disability market, if only as a labour market, by some businesses.
The positive effects of these laws have also served to highlight the significant barriers that remain to meaningful participation. In turn, this has increased pressure for disability equality law to be further refined and focused so as to encourage even greater levels of participation and market recognition.
As an example, the application of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has already demonstrated how there is room for improvement even in those jurisdictions where disability equality is relatively advanced. A virtuous circle of 'legal recognition'; 'market participation'; 'market recognition'; leading to 'enhanced legal recognition' and so on has been created. 1
An Emerging Market
Increasing globalisation has led consumers with disabilities to have an expectation that accessibility should be universal. This means that even in national markets that are not directly regulated by disability equality laws, there is inbound pressure to remove and prevent barriers to participation.
Given that the baby boomer generation, the most influential to date, is now entering the age where the prevalence of disability is 51.8%, disability equality is increasingly relevant for businesses the world over. We have no doubt that the effects of this virtuous circle will be significantly magnified in the next few years.
Baby boomers are a unique demographic, typically well educated, affluent and demanding. As such, the voice of the disability market is set to become louder and more influential in the next few years, with growing pressure for market recognition and an effective response to the consumer-related needs of this market. With its size, value, challenges and opportunities, the disability market can accurately be described as an emerging market.
Barrier Removal and Meaningful Compliance
Businesses operating in jurisdictions where disability equality regulation already exists have a two-fold motivation for compliance: avoiding potential costs of non-compliance; and active participation in a growing market. Barrier removal, with or without the motivation of compliance is, however, simply good for business!
Meaningful compliance sets the foundations for effective engagement with the disability market and strengthens connections with customers that have an emotional attachment to the consumer-related needs of people with disabilities. Together, these consumer segments account for 53% of the global market place, with the figure growing year on year.
Importantly, meaningful compliance does not necessarily mean increased spending for businesses. Instead, it involves a coherent and more effective response to the specific needs of customers and employees within any given business context, along with a commitment to ongoing review.
The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities is already binding on a number of countries that do not yet directly regulate private businesses in the context of disability equality. This makes it increasingly likely that disability equality laws will be introduced into the national legal systems of such countries in the near to medium term.
Businesses operating in these kinds of jurisdictions without direct regulation may be hesitant to invest in meaningful compliance. However, those businesses that are committed to meaningful compliance are rapidly realising that a strategic, proactive approach not only reduces overall compliance costs, it also enables a business to develop competencies and innovation potential that non-compliant rivals, or those doing the minimum to be compliant, will be hard pressed to match.
In essence, businesses are more likely to enjoy long-term success if they throw out fear and look anew at the disability market. This growing consumer segment represents both an opportunity to do something for the wider social good, and a chance to gain an early foothold in a largely unclaimed market sector.
1. See, for example, the following decisions by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Liliane Gröninger et al. v. Germany, Communication No. 2/2010 (CRPD/C/D/2/2010) views of 4th April 2014 and H.M. v Sweden, Communication No. 3/2011 (CRPD/C/7/D/3/2011), views of 19 April 2012. Available from the jurisprudence page on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website. ↩