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Accessibility: a matter of big bucks and smart business decisions

As someone who’s been tirelessly advocating for the inclusion of people with disabilities in the digital space for over 20 years, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve had to explain to people that accessibility is more than just a business expense. As the old saying goes, if I’d been given a dollar for every time that someone brought up the argument that “people with disabilities have no money anyway” to justify their inactions towards accessible content and more inclusive design, well, let’s just say I’d be much closer to financial independence than I am today.

“Blind people don’t use computers. Seniors hate technology. Of course, everyone knows how to use the web. Why spend our time ensuring such basic things when there are so many cool, innovative technologies to pursue, and so many new boundaries to push?” The truth of the matter is, when it comes to people with disabilities, the elderly, or anyone marginalized by the way we create digital content, this very heterogeneous group represents a much bigger market than most people realize. And if they did, the digital landscape would look a hell of a lot different for those who currently struggle with what the rest of us takes for granted.

As a matter of fact, I’d argue that people with disabilities are a market that is not only ripe for the taking but once that is by far and large, literally untapped! According to the American Institutes for Research (AIR), working-age Americans with disabilities (those between the ages of 16 and 64), collectively control over $490 billion a year in after-tax, disposable income. And when you look at the data for seniors, research conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor shows that Americans aged 50 years and older are estimated to control over $1.7 trillion in discretionary spending power and enjoy a net worth of over $17 trillion. Why would any business not want to tap into that?

People with disabilities and the elderly. Are you comfortable adding those two completely distinct demographics together? I certainly am. According to the same research from the American Institutes for Research, at $490 billion annually, the community of people with disabilities, a community that is by far, one of the largest minority groups on the web, is right up there with other communities anyone in their right minds would ever consider not marketing to, such as the Black community which collectively controls about $501 billion annually, or the Latinx community which controls about $582 billion per year.

So I’m always baffled when savvy business people play the “it’s too expensive to care about accessibility” card. In fact, in light of all of this data, I’d argue that one of the smartest business investments or moves an organization can make is focusing really hard on making their content accessible to those who are traditionally marginalized by inaccessible content, products, and services. And it’s not only the money organizations are leaving on the table as a result of not paying attention to this untapped market. It’s also the opportunities that are lost for those who are limited in the way they can contribute to society, as well as what we as a society are losing because these same people are systematically left out!

And even though these figures are for the United States, we can observe very similar trends up here in Canada, with the Ontarian Chamber of Commerce estimating the after-tax disposable income of people with disabilities to be at around $55 billion annually. When you think that the population ratio between the U.S and Canada is roughly 9 to 1, we can see that these numbers pretty much align. Which makes it completely reasonable to extrapolate that the discretionary spending power of Canadian seniors aged 50 and older could easily be estimated at around 190 billion dollars annually.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.