A Little Disability Etiquette Goes A Long Way In Disability Marketing

June 8, 2012

A young white boy is holding onto his white mother’s hand and is pointing to a group of wheelchair users in front of him. The mother is wearing a pink dress and matching shoes and has dark grey hair. The youngster has his brown hair cut into a crew cut and is wearing a green top, with blue trousers and matching socks. The four wheelchair users are all identical in every detail. They all look exactly the same: White, balding males wearing red tops and dark blue trousers. They are also all using identical red, self propelled wheelchairs. They are in fact mirror images of each other. The youngster is saying to his mother: "Oh look – it’s the Disabled!"

Courtesy of crippencartoons.co.uk

On my Twitter stream this morning, I came across an article from disability author Gary Karp that is particularly appropriate for marketers and advertisers who want to connect with the market of consumers with disabilities. In it, Karp outlines three principles of “disability etiquette”:

(1) They are people first.
(2) They treasure their independence.
(3) They are experts at their disabilities.

There is at least an empirical basis for his comments: a survey earlier this year showed that elderly people with disabilities want dignity and a sense of control. Although this survey focused on mature consumers (those over 60 years old), they are the age group with the highest proportion of people with disabilities. For them, access and independence are paramount.

At a basic level, people with disabilities desire independence, dignity, and a quality of life just like their non-disabled peers. Karp writes:

The general stereotype holds that living with a disability is difficult, so the natural impulse many have is to help. However much a person might need help in certain situations, what they are able to do for themselves is all the more precious…. Ultimately, helping is about who gets to choose, who’s in control.

It’s about empowerment. It’s about giving consumers with disabilities the ability to choose the products and services they want, that gives them a sense of independence and a level of control over their lives.

So when a consumer with a disability sees or hears a marketing message that speaks to these desires, he or she will listen. An offer to help, not so much.

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