Modern consumers are a diverse group increasingly made up of discerning and conscientious individuals who are passionate about their values and standards. Within that context, business owners often find success when they identify a unique niche and make a business out of catering to their specific needs. While many cultures and subcultures increasingly find their needs being met by these savvy business owners who have diversified, a market that can easily be overlooked is the disability population. At 26% of the population according to the CDC, that’s hardly an obscure little pocket of consumers. Disabled Americans total around 61 million, a market that business leaders would ignore at their own risk.
This is not to say that the disability market is a monolith. Many might think of the disabled population as a homogenous elderly population, but that's not the case. Instead, it’s composed of diverse populations, all with their own cultures, interests, needs, and tastes. Given the size and diversity of this market, it’s likely that businesses in every industry are missing out on revenue from this robust market if they fail to incorporate accessibility into their business model. Here we detail the specific demographics of the disability market so that business owners can see for themselves precisely what niche they may fit into within it, starting with a breakdown of Americans with specific disabilities, followed by the disabled population by age, sex, race as well as in the LGBTQ community.
Types of disabilities
Depending on the nature of a business or industry, it might be fruitful to consider the needs of the disabled population relevant to their disability. In order to understand what their physical and practical needs might be—again, because the disabled community is not a monolith all with identical disabilities—it’s helpful to understand the nature of individual disabilities and to quantify those who live with them. Of the 61 million Americans living with some type of disability, the percentages of each are outlined as follows, as reported by the individual.
|Difficulty Using Stairs||38%|
|Requires a Cane/Crutch/Walker||15%|
|Requires a Wheelchair||5%|
|Difficulty Grasphing Objects||13%|
|Depression or Anxiety||19%|
|Trouble Coping with Stress||15%|
|Alzheimer's, Senility, or Dementia||2.5%|
Americans with disabilities by age
As one might expect, a significant number of Americans over age 65 live with a disability, with about 50% of that population reporting a disability. But that age group only comprises about 34% of the total population of disabled Americans. In other words, about 2/3 of Americans living with a disability are under the age of 65, which dissolves the stereotype that the disabled population and the elderly population are one and the same. A study from Texas A&M University Corpus Christi on disabled populations provides a precise breakdown of Americans with a disability by age.
Americans with Disabilities by Sex
According to the CDC, about 20% of males and 25% of females have a disability. Trends vary from industry to industry, but it might be helpful to consider that in many cases women tend to be more frequent and loyal consumers, often making the majority of consumer decisions within the household.
Americans with disabilities by race/ethnicity
The CDC also provides information about Americans with disabilities by race. The group with the highest prevalence of disability is American Indians/Alaska Natives with about 30% of this population having a disability. The full breakdown by race from the CDC follows.
|American Indian/Alaska Native||30%|
|Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander||17%|
In the LGBTQ community
More than 1/3 of LGBTQ people report having a disability. Among LGBTQ adults, 30% of men and 36% of women have a disability. Here’s a more precise breakdown of LGBTQ individuals with a disability plus numbers for heterosexuals as a comparison. It’s clear that the prevalence of disability is much higher for LGBTQ individuals than for their heterosexual peers.
Given this data, it’s clear that the population of disabled Americans is not a homogenous group where a generic one-size-fits-all business approach is appropriate, but a rich and diverse group of individuals with consumer needs as varied and robust as its members. By understanding the specific disabilities that individuals live with, it’s possible for savvy entrepreneurs to cater specifically to the practical needs of disabled folks, and that would be much appreciated by the disabled community.
But the broader goal of providing this information is to encourage industry leaders to begin to incorporate accessibility into every facet of their business model or risk alienating up to 26% of the consumer population. Given the above data, no matter what niche a business’s products serve, it’s likely that there are some disabled folks who are unable to access the product due to a lack of accessibility. To avoid neglecting up to 26% of the consumer population, businesses can:
- Make their existing technologies, practices, and spaces (both physical and virtual) more accessible
- Make their eCommerce ordering process more accessible
- Foster an approach to customer service that is accessible by doubling down on education and awareness of best practices
Because ultimately, if 26% of possible consumers cannot properly purchase, access, or use your product, then you’re missing out on no small share of the market. Creating accessible products and customer service experiences is not only great for the disability community but it’s just good business, financially and ethically. And that’s the bottom line.