Helping People With Disabilities: A Guide for Entrepreneurs

May 1, 2023
Natalie Thorburn


Business owners get to interact with people from all walks of life. Among them are consumers with special needs. About 1 in 4 American adults have a disability, making it 26% of the population.

That means today’s consumer population has a spending power of USD 175 billion. As entrepreneurs, you cannot overlook this potential.

In fact, a study by Business Wire shows that 83% of businesses are learning how to reach people with disabilities. However, barriers to marketing accessibility remain. How will business owners reach this demographic with the change in the digital landscape?

Imagine you received a client with special needs without knowing how to deal with them. Not only will that be embarrassing, but it will also affect your brand value or lead to malpractice lawsuits.

Either way, the first thing you need to do is keep an open mind. Moreover, you should focus on creating a competent and well-thought-out inclusive experience for them. Read on to know more.

Understanding the Differences

A study based on the consumer journey of disabled people showed that 63% do not benefit from eCommerce businesses. This dip happened because business owners did not understand that special needs come in different forms.

Therefore, you, as a business owner, should know that disabilities can happen to any human being in any form. The special requirements can either be permanent, visible, or hidden. It can also be hereditary or acquired. At the same time, old age can also bring forward physical or mental limitations.

That is why entrepreneurs should be patient and kind towards such individuals. Recently, Uber faced a lawsuit where they had to pay millions of dollars as a settlement for charging disabled people unfairly.

To avoid such repercussions, you should stop assuming someone’s limitations and understand the different types of special needs:

  • Developmental, intellectual, and physical disabilities
  • Vision, hearing, and speech impairment
  • Learning disability

Other than this, you should also focus on understanding the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities during employment, communications, transportation, and more.

This way, you can adhere to the legal obligations and ensure that your services are accessible to people with special needs.

Having a “Person-First” Approach

Did you know that the Tylenol Lawsuit for Autism stemmed from malpractice and negligence from medical companies? The Tylenol distributors and manufacturers are in trouble because their products lead to infants developing disabilities.

According to TorHoerman Law, the affected individuals of the Tylenol lawsuit are the children of pregnant women. These mothers consumed Tylenol, an over-the-counter medication, for pain and fever. This consumption led to children developing Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and other neurological issues.

These instances are proof enough for you to focus on building a safe and inclusive environment for the disabled demographic. And it all starts with your employees and their “person-first” language.

“Person-first” means that you look at the disabled individual as a person and not as a disability. Therefore, you must treat them as individuals and converse with them naturally. In some cases, people tend to avoid eye contact. Instead, they might stare or talk to their caregivers. Doing so will show that you do not respect them as individuals.

At the same time, you should also choose the right words of expression. Avoid using words or phrases that can be demeaning or hurtful. For example, instead of saying “autistic person,” you can refer to them as “person with autism.”

Remember, you should never demean or pity a customer based on their appearance.

Changing Business Eqtiquetts to Accommodate Disabled Consumers

Big eCommerce companies are slowly making their brand more accessible to people with special needs. In fact, Tommy Hilfiger released a clothing line called Tommy Adaptive that focuses on creating apparel for people with physical disabilities. They went the extra mile and parted with over 2,000 individuals with special needs to ensure inclusiveness.

Companies that are purpose-driven acquire more leads in the marketplace. Americans prefer caring and responsible organizations and are more likely to buy from them. On average, these companies have witnessed a 20% increase in revenue.

This exponential change can occur when your enterprise follows etiquette principles for interacting with disabled individuals. Some of them include the following:

  • Adjusting your expectations and treating them equally and respectfully
  • Avoiding patronizing them and displaying a welcoming attitude instead
  • Being attentive to the responses given and adapting to their needs
  • Be courteous and do not insist on assisting if they deny your help
  • If they have a service animal, avoid distracting, petting, or feeding it
  • Have the desire to help, be patient, and show them dignity
  • Avoid touching the devices of people with physical ailments

Other than these, ensure that you have face-to-face communication with people having hearing disabilities and do not cover your mouth. Moreover, you should adequately identify yourself to customers who have a visual impairment.

Before onboarding an individual with special needs, train your employees properly. You can also create an environment that is accessible, understandable, and perceivable to this demographic.

For example, removing trip hazards or having a well-lit room for office visits.

The Way Forward

In today’s era, devices like Alexa have helped parents, children, and adults with special needs deal with mundane life. In fact, Eileen, a mother of two sons with autism, found Alexa to be the most helpful in stimulating the senses.

At the same time, Valerie has vision impairment due to old age and can confidently live alone due to such devices. She uses Alexa to set timers, listen to the news, and stay connected with her friends.

Yes, the world is indeed evolving and accommodating the needs of people with disabilities. Therefore, as an entrepreneur, you should also focus on understanding the differences.

People with disabilities can have developmental, learning, or vision impairment. However, you should understand these without treating them differently. Instead, you can have a “person-first” approach in your company. You should also help your team understand the etiquette and build an inclusive environment.

Only then can you create an accessible environment for this demographic which can help enhance your brand value and loyalty!


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