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Consumers with Disabilities Have a Choice

Adult male with gray hair sitting on a wheelchair and working on a laptop. Caption on top says

From the Karman Healthcare website: https://www.karmanhealthcare.com/blog/2013/07/22/disabled-how-to-choose-a-wheelchair/

In marketing lingo, a “pain point” is a problem experienced by a consumer that keeps him or her from satisfying a need or want. The need can be basic, or, to borrow from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, at a higher level of need. We are hungry and need to buy food. We are cold and need to turn on the heat. We are bored, and want to do something (ski down a black diamond run? ride a powerful sporty car from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds? climb up Yosemite’s Half Dome?) to satisfy our need for excitement. All three examples are “pain points.” Businesses address pain points by introducing new products or services, improving their current offerings, or targeting new markets with their current offerings.

For a consumer with a disability (CwD), he or she has a pain point that consumers without disabilities do not have: a need or want that is not satisfied because of the disability itself. It can be something as mundane as being nearsighted (to take a very loose definition of disability itself) and not being able to see clearly across the room, or as complex as having severe spinal cord injuries that preclude caring for oneself, moving around, or eating on his or her own. In all cases, those types of pain points spur innovation through the development of products or services that address the limitations generated by the disability.

Such as the wheelchair to enable those with mobility limitations to get around. The hearing aid so those with difficulty hearing can get better hearing. A mouse that can be controlled by eye movement, for those who do not use their hands to navigate the computer. Clothing to fit those whose bodies do not conform to what is considered typical dimensions by apparel designers.

That’s obvious to anyone, so why write about this?

A reality that many CwDs are all too aware of, but little noticed among those without disabilities, is that many disability-related products do not always fully address their disability. Like any other market segment, CwDs are constantly looking for new products that more fully address their disability. If we need a better laptop because the current one is not good enough for today’s powerful new apps, then we hope there’s a new laptop coming that will perform better. So it is with my cochlear implants (CIs): they have truly helped me hear better, much more than the hearing aids of my childhood and early adulthood. Yet I want better sound clarity and easier operation of the CIs (for example, the volume and program buttons are too small, and the headpieces get tangled with each other).

Certainly, it’s important for those with influence in business to be aware of what CwDs want in terms of accessible products. Yet, as is typical of the business world, some business leaders have a social orientation that motivates them to address CwDs’ wants regardless of level of investment, and other business leaders are motivated only by profit and do not value the social good that comes out of an increased investment in accessibility. Although this sounds cynical, it’s important to highlight this in the context of an important trend in the disability market.

At a minimum, one of every 6 Americans has a disability. By 2050, that number could possibly increase to nearly 1 of every 4, in large part due to aging baby boomers and medical advances that improve the quality of life of people with disabilities and lengthen their lifespans.

To even the most jaded businessperson, that kind of growth in such a large market is potentially lucrative. And when a market is set to grow reliably and stably over the next two to three decades, this lends itself to interesting opportunities.

Where does all this lead to? With more investment in products and services for CwDs, there can be more consumer choices for CwDs, with a better chance of satisfying the wants generated by the consumers’ disabilities.

And to do well in this market requires collecting and analyzing data. This part of the equation, surprisingly enough, needs work. While businesses that specialize in products addressing a specific type of disability do well in collecting data about their customers, as a general observation, the disability market lags behind other similarly-sized markets in terms of available consumer data to assess and analyze.

Whether it is at the innovation stage or the mature stage of the product life cycle, CwDs will always have some demand for products that address their disability, as a solid, stable quality of life is essential to them. So while the disability market is growing significantly, this presents opportunities for new products that should excite and satisfy the many different types of CwDs — and their families and friends. And in the quest for these new products, it is essential to get an understanding, through analyzing consumer data, of the “pain points” that CwDs experience in their use of products that address their specific disabilities.

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