Empowering People Through Advocacy

August 2021
A monthly publication from our Disability Rights and Advocacy Specialist,
Patrick Ober, J.D., Ph.D.
Hello again, CILO supporters and Disability Advocates! Below is our monthly highlight of advocacy and policy issues to know and learn about related to people with disabilities and independent living.

As we mentioned last month in our Newsletter, in honor of July being Disability Pride Month and the 31st Anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we committed both the July and August Advocate for Independence Newsletters to discussing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) practices throughout the business and workplace world.
  • In July, we focused on DEI-focused employment initiatives, and how businesses and governments are incorporating DEI into hiring and employment practices and policies, as well as tips for how you can assist your own business or workplace in promoting more effective DEI-focused employee initiatives.
  • This month, we will share insight on how businesses can promote DEI concepts within the products and services that they offer.

How Can Your Business Promote DEI Concepts Through Accessible Products and Services?

More and more people and companies are considering diversity, equity, and inclusion to be important business practices. But DEI concepts are not just hiring and employment principles: they can be strong influencers of profitability and marketability for a company or business.
  • A 2018 report published by the American Institutes for Research found that 1 in 5 American adults (about 64 million people) have some form of a disability, and 35% of those adults are “working age” (between 16-64 years old), about 22.4 million people.
  • Those millions of working age Americans with disabilities both need accessible products and services, and possess about $490 billion dollars in disposable income in the United States alone, and $8 trillion dollars worldwide.
  • Disability rights group Click-Away Pound found that 61% of users with accessibility needs would leave a site and take their business elsewhere if they weren’t properly accommodated.
  • People with disabilities are also not a solitary market; they are surrounded by family members and friends who also recognize the value in products and services that accommodate all people in society.
With that kind of spending power, there is an incredible and largely untapped market that is in desperate need of more inclusive and accessible goods and services. Some of the most successful companies in the world have begun to recognize this, and it is paying off for them in higher revenues, net incomes, and profit margins.

So, how can your business or organization embrace disability diversity and inclusion within your products and services? Sam Latif, Company Accessibility Leader at Proctor and Gamble, shares a few of her ideas:

1.     Accessible products will appeal “across the board”
One of the first things people might think about when trying to redesign products or services is “how can I make this product or service work for people with disabilities?” In fact, the more accurate (and financially successful) question should be “how can I make this product accessible for as many people as possible?” The difference in those two questions is important to understand: the first question implies that people with disabilities need a “different” product or service that works for them; the second question recognizes that EVERYONE can benefit from a universally designed, accessible product. What do some of these products look like?    
  • JC Penny, Target, and other stores recently came out with a new kid’s clothing line of shoes, shirts, jeans, shorts, dresses, and more, designed to be more accessible to individuals with different disabilities. It has features like easy-access openings, sensory-friendly seaming, hidden abdominal access and no tags. Tommy Hilfiger also has an adaptive clothing line, where buttons and zippers get swapped out for magnets and Velcro. Pants legs are widened, to make room for braces and prosthetics. And watches are fitted with magnetic mesh straps.
  • Hallmark has debuted a ’Sign & Send’ greeting card made to be more accessible to people with physical disabilities that make buying, signing, and sending a physical card difficult to do. It allows people to purchase a card online, type or photograph a message and press send from their phone. Hallmark takes it from there by producing the card, stamping it and sending it via postal mail.
  • An accessible online experience not only benefits customers with disabilities, but everyone. For example, Mac Cosmetics is including on its retail website an improved color-contrast ratio, alternate text that can help provide context to pictures, as well as live chat and AR (augmented reality) features that make it easier to shop from home. Social media posts will also include an image description and auto-generated captioning on videos going forward.
  • Finally, beauty company Redken now features braille labels on some of its products. Estée Lauder-owned company Too Faced has little shapes on the side of its packaging, so users can feel whether they’re holding a lip gloss or something else. 

While there are certainly needs for disability-specific items, as a general idea for product and service design the more accessible a product is to everyone the more people are likely to buy it. The financial tradeoff in spending a little extra money, a little extra time to ensure a product is more accessible to people of different abilities can be massive.
2.  Improve customer service and train your staff

Your business space may be the most physically accessible it can be, or your products may be usable by people of many different disabilities. But if your staff and systems do not also embrace accessibility and inclusion, those products and services are useless to people with disabilities. As Gavin Neate, the founder of Neatebox which has developed a training app to improve customer service puts it, “"If you have the most accessible building in the world and then the security guard says, 'No mate, you can't bring a dog in here', then you are not getting inside that building." Likewise, if a businesses’ website is not accessible for people with physical disabilities or vision impairments, they can’t purchase any adaptive or universally designed products it offers.

Oftentimes businesses hinder their own relationships with customers with disabilities because staff are not initially and continuously trained about how they are allowed (and need) to provide accessibility and inclusion to people.
  • Engaging with disability-focused community groups and nonprofit organizations can be great ways to bring disability awareness training to staff;
  • While training all employees on disability awareness and accommodations is ideal, ensuring that staff regularly engaging with customers or at points-of-entry, as well as managers and supervisors are all trained in disability awareness and accommodations is an excellent first step;
  • Consider creating a disability action plan to aid you in organizing staff training and business policies and practices to be more accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities!

3.   Build in change from the start
Accessible design and inclusion are easiest and most cost-effective to implement when they are considered at the beginning of any project. As Sam Latif at P&G put it, “Redesigning existing products or services to make them appeal to a disabled clientele is much more expensive than thinking about disability from the start.”

Many businesses can also help themselves plan for accessibility and universal design by including people with disabilities in the design process.
  • If a company has incorporated diversity, equity, and inclusion in its hiring and employment practices, its employees can be a critical component of ensuring goods and services are made as accessibly as possible. 
  • If a business is still working on its DEI practices, a great way to jumpstart thinking about accessible design is to get input and feedback from 1) its customers with disabilities, and 2) advocates, organizations, and experts in the area that promote disability rights and inclusion. As Emma Vogelman with the disability equality organization Scope says, "It's only through user-testing that you are able to pick up barriers faced by a specific group of people - you wouldn't be aware of those areas unless [you yourself are] faced with them.”

Regardless of where a business or organization is currently at with DEI practices and accessible products and services, it is never too late to begin or improve. As the above experts and information outlines, though, the most effective and long-lasting ways to transform any business or organization to be most disability-inclusive include the following:

1) Improving access points (websites, stores) to be more physically accessible to all;

2) Including more individuals with disabilities in the workforce and in positions of leadership;

3) Consideration of how to maximize accessibility and universal design at the start of any project or initiative; and

4) Training and maintaining employees that understand the needs, accommodations, and appropriate ways to interact with people with disabilities.
Local and State Policy and Advocacy
News to Follow

  • The Ohio Olmstead Task Force (OOTF), a statewide grassroots coalition of Ohioans with disabilities, family members, advocates, and organizations advocating for the right to live, work, and participate in their communities, is working to bring awareness and solutions to the direct care crisis in Ohio. The OOTF recently asked Ohio state agencies administering the home and community-based services waivers to meet to discuss recommendations on how to fix the direct care provider crisis and ensure people with disabilities are not forced back into institutions rather than remaining at home with the care they need to maintain independence in their communities.

  • In a big reversal of policy, the Social Security Administration has announced that people with disabilities who saved their stimulus check money will not be penalized or lose their Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit status. SSI and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are major federal programs that provide financial assistance and support to millions of people with disabilities but come with strict income and savings limitations in order to remain eligible for the benefits.

  • U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) recently introduced a bipartisan-sponsored bill that would raise the maximum age for Americans with disabilities to open an ABLE savings account to 46 years old. This bill, if passed would allow an additional six million more people who might not otherwise be eligible to open such an account. ABLE accounts are tax free savings accounts for those with disabilities. These accounts allow people with disabilities to save money without disqualifying them from government benefits such as SSI, Medicaid and means-tested programs such as HUD and SNAP/food stamps.

Please reach out with any comments or questions.

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