How Can We Better Market to Individuals with Disabilities?



In class this week we were asked to think about special considerations in regard to racial minority groups. After I completed the assignment I couldn’t stop thinking about what marketing looks like for individuals that have disabilities. I started working in the Office of Accessibility Services at WVU in May of 2016. Since then my eyes have been opened to the amount of thought and consideration that goes into accommodating individuals that have disabilities. I was curious to know how being accommodating applied to marketing.

To put everything in perspective, consider that 19% of the U.S. population have at least one disability. That is 1 in 5 people. Individuals with disabilities come from diverse backgrounds. Everyone, no matter what people group they come from, can relate to knowing someone or being close to someone that has a disability. Individuals with disabilities shop, eat, and enjoy entertainment the way everyone else does. So why do marketers often forget to reach this population? Perhaps it is because they are worried they will do it incorrectly. But, that can’t be where the conversation ends. Not only will the company benefit from reaching more potential customers, but it will allow 19% of our Nation’s population to be included. 

One of the main issues and considerations when marketing to individuals that have disabilities is making sure the content is accessible.  In other words if an individual that is deaf is watching a commercial that isn’t captioned will they be as inclined to purchase the item? There is a legal regulation that states all broadcasts must be captioned, however there is an exception if it’s less than 5-minutes long. That means many companies don’t caption commercials, which neglects about 48 million Americans.

Another issue is not representing individuals that have disabilities in the marketing campaign’s content. Recently, I’ve noticed Target actually doing this very well. I’ve included some images of the ads below. One mom was so excited she posted to her social media account about how much it meant to her, and how excited her daughter was going to be to see the ad. This leads me to consider all of the family members and friends of individuals that have disabilities that will shop at a location, because the ads were so accommodating.



I’ve included the Nike and Nordstrom ads below to show more examples of inclusive ads. It would be great to see more advertisements like these!



Being inclusive isn’t very difficult, and in many ways it can be better for everyone. There is a TedTalk that I love, where a woman named Elise Roy discusses how designing for individuals with disabilities is beneficial to everyone. It isn’t about marketing, but the concepts can be applied to anything. When we make media, items, and content available to everyone more people can benefit and share in the experience. Most of the time when we design for everyone we make the product better than it would have been in the first place.

I wasn’t able to embed the video, but you can view it here if you’re interested. It is definitely worth watching. She gives examples of items that were functional, but once they were designed to accommodate individuals with disabilities they came out even better than they were originally. For example, text messaging was created for individuals that are Deaf, and now just about everyone uses it!

Imagine if companies took the time to market inclusively, perhaps they would come up with the next big thing. If we take the time to be creative, maybe an app would surface that turns all print ads into speech by scanning a QR code, or maybe print ads would be created more dynamically to engage individuals that have Autism. The sky really is the limit.

What do you think?  Have you noticed any other companies that market to individuals with disabilities successfully? What other things do you think companies should consider in their marketing strategies to be more accommodating?


Author: hannahbakeryoung

I am an IMC grad student at West Virginia University.

2 thoughts on “How Can We Better Market to Individuals with Disabilities?”

  1. Great post. I love this and completely agree with what you are saying. People with disabilities have to shop too just like anyone else and the fact that they are mainly ignored by advertising companies is a missed opportunity. I remember when the Target ad you used as an example came out and I thought it was a huge step in the right direction.

    Your post comes right on the heels of a marketing fail involving Vogue Brazil. They were doing a special issue to raise awareness for the 2016 Paralympics and actually Photoshopped two models to look like they had disabilities. While they actually worked with/consulted two of the Paralympic athletes on this project, Vogue Brazil was probably not prepared for the social media backlash they received. You can see the photos and read about this incident here:


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